What Men Want
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
In 2000, Mel Gibson could hear women’s thoughts in What Women Want. Nineteen years later, Taraji P. Henson can hear men’s thoughts in What Men Want. It really is just a gender reversal on the same story, but it occasionally comes off as slightly more due to Henson being such a gifted verbal and physical comedienne. It is not a great comedy. It is a little too busy, with some gags and subplots that do not work. There are things to like here, even if they are sometimes overwhelmed by ill-advised ideas.
Henson’s Ali is the only female agent at a firm that represents athletes. After she is passed up for a promotion because her boss thinks she does not understand men, she drinks tea given to her by a weird psychic, hits her head and wakes up able to hear what members of the opposite sex are thinking.
I will start with the bad stuff. Unfortunately, the initial concept is used in a very superficial way. Ali only seems to hear exactly what she needs to at any given time. That was annoying. I also disliked the subplot involving her new boyfriend. It is dull, predictable and completely superfluous to the main narrative. Additionally, this being an R-rated comedy, there are far too many instances of vulgarity being the joke instead of put in use to enhance the joke. Note to all present and future actors, writers and directors: the f-word is not inherently funny. Each of these things held the movie back in various ways.
What Men Want (113 minutes without the end credits) succeeds as much as it does because of its tremendous lead actress. Henson is a great performer who does not always make the right choices in terms of material. Since starring in Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures in 2016, she has starred in Proud Mary, Acrimony and now this. She brought way more skill to all three of these screenplays than any of them deserved.
Her latest is certainly the strongest of the group and allows her to stretch her comedic muscles. Her best asset here is her ability to sell a gag. She does it with her face, her voice, sometimes her entire body. It acts as an extra punchline. In some cases, this would be overacting. But the humor is so broad that her approach fits right in. It is difficult for me to imagine anyone pulling this role off as successfully as she does. That includes the way she helps the movie build to, and pay off, its emotional revelations. It actually spends time on them so it does not seem totally out of place when it switches gears to sentimentality in its final act. The changing tones are a bit of a challenge for the screenplay. Thankfully for the filmmakers, Henson has no issues navigating them.
What Men Want is a good idea given a fairly lazy treatment. There are definitely moments that made me laugh out loud. There were also moments that made me cringe. Putting Taraji P. Henson in a man’s world, then letting her see through it as a way to see herself is a very promising concept. The movie never gets past level one. That leaves the actors and dialogue to carry the entertainment value. The actors are good and there are enough funny lines to get by. However, overall, this project does not take advantage of its star or its premise.
2¾ out of 5
Taraji P. Henson as Ali Davis
Josh Brener as Brandon Wallace
Tracy Morgan as Joe Dolla
Shane Paul McGhie as Jamal Barry
Brian Bosworth as Nick Ivers
Max Greenfield as Kevin Myrtle
Aldis Hodge as Will
Erykah Badu as Sister
Directed by Adam Shankman
Screenplay by Tina Gordon Chism, Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory