Earlier this year, Screen Rant was invited to Atlanta, GA to visit the set of Paramount's What Men Want, a new comedy starring Taraji P. Henson as Ali, a sports agent who struggles to get ahead in her male-dominated field but gains the upper hand when she develops the ability to hear men's thoughts. We'll be sharing some of what we learned on set in the coming days, beginning with the general premise of the movie: what are men really thinking?
A re-imagining of the 2000 Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt romantic comedy, What Women Want, this new film borrows that general idea of hearing the thoughts of the opposite sex and flips it. Less of a rom-com and more of workplace comedy, What Men Want follows Ali as she works to represent a promising new NBA talent - all the while, hearing the thoughts of the men around her and using what she learns to her advantage. It's a situation that can easily lead to some very funny moments, but What Men Want makes sure to also use these inner thoughts to prove a point - that men and women aren't really all that different.
When talking with Henson, she explained that in the film, men's inner thoughts reveal they are "just as insecure as [women] are," adding:
"I think the women sit back and they wait for the sexual stuff. ‘Ah, we know he’s going to talk about our tits or our ass,’ but y’know, they are very smart in the things that they put on men’s minds. This one guy that I heard today talking about how he should adopt a dog. So I think you’ll be surprised just like I am at the things that go through men’s brains. Y’know, like there’s this one guy, he’s an assistant to another sports agent and his thought is, ‘Give me a raise, you prick.’ I mean, how many times are women saying that?”
When we spoke with director Adam Shankman, he stressed what was most important to him was, "not making the things in people’s heads only exist to motivate the plot forward." In What Men Want, it's key that the thoughts Ali hears are just "as random as things that are in people’s heads" and that they be "fleeting." It's in these random thoughts that quickly pass through our minds that Shankman believes the "true comedy" is, when the film is playing with "the misconception about what everyone thinks about, men or women."
On set, Shankman also wasn't opposed to ad-libbing, encouraging the actors to play with the scenes and give whatever they found were the funniest lines in the moment; if he didn't like it, he would "cut around it." There was even more room to play with the inner thoughts of characters because while these lines were read aloud on set, for the finished film, the lines are re-recorded and dubbed in post. This gave them immense freedom, as Shankman explains:
"[What Men Want is] curated nicely in order to create--because so much is going on in everybody’s heads, that’s such a wild unknown. Everything we’ve scripted, none of it may ever be used because we find something funnier in the editing room."
Producer Will Packer echoed that same thinking, explaining further how this freedom will allow them to comment on whatever is happening in the moment, making What Men Want as timely a comedy as possible:
"Because so much of it is what are in our actors' heads, and we will go back later and do ADR. So we've always said, we've got an opportunity. What that, like, hot-button pop culture thing is, we can go and we will have the opportunity to add that stuff and make the movie feel very relevant later on. Even closer to the release date. So today it's the [NFL] kneeling thing, who knows when it comes out what the Kardashians would have done. But if we choose to, we can put that in our movie. That's kind of cool. And it's the first time I've been a part of movie that had that kind of malleability when it came to like, what actors are really saying/thinking. We'll be able to add that stuff in through the end of post-production."
Not only will What Men Want explore what men are thinking, examining how unexpected and random those thoughts actually are, but the film is also following Ali as she navigates the world of men through their inner most thoughts. Packer summarizes the film as,
"A comedy about this woman in a man's world figuring out how to play the game using this very cool device that she gets in the movie to her advantage. And it's really more about a woman becoming empowered than it is a woman finding love. It's fun that that happens along the way, but it doesn't have the typical machinations of a rom-com."
We'll have more from our set visit over the next couple days, including our discussion with Taraji P. Henson about how excited she is for the chance to star in a full-on comedy as well as how her character breaks that glass ceiling - for sports agents and actresses. What Men Want releases nationwide January 11th, 2019.