What Men Want is a solid comedy, in which Taraji P. Henson shines as the star, that also manages to somewhat compellingly explore bias against women.
In recent years, Hollywood has taken to producing gender-swapped remakes of beloved and/or successful properties - at least in part in an effort to release more female-led films. The latest of these is What Men Want, a loose remake of the Nancy Meyers movie, What Women Want, that starred Mel Gibson and released in 2000. Like 2016's Ghostbusters and 2018's Ocean's 8, What Men Want switches out the male lead(s) for a female character, flipping the script in terms of what viewers can expect. While What Men Want still has the same basic premise as the original movie, it capitalizes on the current social climate to tackle certain hot button topics in a funny way. What Men Want is a solid comedy, in which Taraji P. Henson shines as the star, that also manages to somewhat compellingly explore bias against women.
What Men Want follows sports agent Ali Davis (Henson), who's fought and managed to climb the ranks of the "boy's club" agency where she works. In fact, she's worked so hard that she's sure she's getting promoted to partner by her boss, Nick (Brian Bosworth). However, when Ali is passed over for partner, with the honor instead going to fellow agent, Eddie (Chris Witaske), she's furious. When asked for an explanation of why Ali was passed over, Nick tells her that she doesn't connect well with the other men in the office. In order to prove herself, Ali vows to sign rising basketball star Jamal Berry (Shane Paul McGhie), despite his quirky and over-involved father, Joe "Dolla" Berry (Tracy Morgan).
Then, at her friend Mari's (Tamala Jones) bachelorette party, Ali meets a psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu), who has Ali drink some strange tea. Coupled with a minor head injury incurred later in the night while the bachelorette party is out at a club, Ali gains the ability to read the inner thoughts of men. Once she discovers this with the help of her assistant Brandon (Josh Brener), Ali decides to use her newfound abilities to help her sign Jamal Berry and get a leg up on the other men in the office, including her coworkers Kevin (Max Greenfield) and Ethan (Jason Jones). Ali also becomes romantically involved with a single father, Will (Aldis Hodge), who gets wrapped up on Ali's schemes to win over Jamal. Between her powers and her drive to win, it remains to be seen if Ali will be able to find a balance that will make her happy in the long term.
What Men Want was directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray, 17 Again) from a script by Tina Gordon (Drumline), Alex Gregory (Veep) and Peter Huyck (Veep) based on a story by Gordon and Jas Waters (This Is Us). Because of the basic premise of What Men Want, the movie is intrinsically linked to issues about gender and racial bias in the workplace and the script tackles those topics head on. The film isn't exactly deft in its handling of Ali's coworkers' racism and sexism, but the bluntness of What Men Want is refreshingly honest in a way other movies and TV shows - that couch addressing racism and sexism in metaphors - simply aren't. Still, the heavy-handedness of What Men Want's message can be clunky at times, undercutting the more authentic and sincere moments.
The directness of What Men Want also allows the movie to derive humor from sensitive subjects. However, there's less smart comedy than viewers may be expecting from Gregory and Huyck, who've both worked on HBO's Veep. Instead, What Men Want aims for the low-hanging fruit of cringe comedy, putting Ali in uncomfortable situations seemingly to simply watch her - and the audience - squirm. Certainly, there's an argument to be made that these scenes somehow serve the plot or Ali's character arc, but for viewers that can't stand cringe humor (this reviewer included), there are too many of these scenes and the bit gets old fast. However, when What Men Want instead leans into addressing its more serious issues with other kinds of humor, the movie excels.
Of course, since What Men Want is all about Ali's journey, the movie largely rests on Henson's shoulders and she carries it well. The actress goes all out for the movie - playing up the film's raunchy bits, over exaggerating Ali's rage in a way that feels like wish fulfillment, and reining it all in for the more quietly sincere moments. Henson has proven herself before to be a talented female lead and she once again proves that in What Men Want. In addition to Henson, Morgan offers a fun turn as Joe Dolla, playing another offbeat character that fans of his will likely enjoy. The rest of the cast, though, has much less to work with. Bosworth, Witaske, Greenfield and Jones play the different shades of interchangeable office bros to great effect - though the movie does offer some insight into each character. Further, Brener and Pete Davidson have a fun secondary plot. But ultimately, What Men Want is Henson's star-turn and the movie largely works thanks to her comedic talent.
All in all, What Men Want is a solid comedy for folks of any gender, taking a comical look at what it would be like if a woman gained the ability to read mens' minds. It's perfect for fans of Henson, and anyone looking for something funny at the dismal winter theater. As previously stated, there is quite a bit of cringe comedy, so anyone who dislikes that kind of humor may want to be a little wary (it does get worse than the football scene from the trailers). But there is plenty of other comedy in What Men Want, so fans of all kinds of humor may be satisfied.
Ultimately, What Men Want is a somewhat interesting look into the psyche of men and women alike within a male-dominated workforce. However, while it addresses those topics through the lens of humor, the movie is much stronger as an escapist fantasy-comedy. It's a fun time at the theater that may make viewers think a bit about bias, but mostly allows them to escape into a world where those biases are tackled in a way that's easily wrapped up in two hours.
What Men Want is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 117 minutes long and is rated R for language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material.
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- What Men Want (2019) release date: Feb 08, 2019