Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Review: What Men Want

What Men Want
Cert: 15 / 117 mins / Dir. Adam Shankman / Trailer

Well. In light of the unceasing waves of The Unpleasantness still emanating from Hollywoodland, along with Paramount's latest pitch for a justified extinction-level meteor strike, I foresee a time fairly soon when the #MeToo movement is joined in genuine solidarity by #MeNeither. For obvious reasons I speak only for the occupant of seat F15, but after watching What Men Want, I can only conclude: better writing would be a start.

A big-hitting, no-nonsense player in an Atlanta PR firm, Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) finds she has to be far better than the multitude of men she works with (and for) just to reap the same rewards, and her relationships outside of work also begin to suffer as a result. When a hen party with friends goes awry, Ali awakes in hospital to find that she can hear the inner-monologue of all men around her. Will she use this gift for the good of everyone? Will she use it to get even? Will it result in basically the same joke being told (and, by definition, explained) for the next hour and a half?
Go on, guess...


That's right, as awards-season peters out, the antidote to all that heavyweight chin-stroking comes in the form of a loose remake of a 2000 Mel Gibson comedy, shrieking toward us like an unasked-for mashup of Big, Liar Liar and I Feel Pretty. And the fact that the better-two entries of that trinity weren't even made in this century should tell you everything you need to know about the feel of things here.

Taking place in high-powered corporate Americaland, we spend a lot of time in Ali's workplace. The 'logo' of the cutting-edge PR agency for which she works is its initials, in Calibri bold with condensed kerning, white on a blue background. That's it. This style carries over into the various bits of signage around the building. So what this comes down to is that some intern has sat down and crafted an entire in-movie corporate identity package by clicking open Microsoft Word then hitting CTRL+B. That's the level of effort which Paramount thinks this film's audience deserve.


The joke (and there is only one joke) is in the title, and that's explained with absolutely no frills in the tagline of the poster. Nobody actually needs to watch this film. Considering how painfully linear the whole thing is, it's about 100 minutes longer than it needs to be. When the moment of Ali's "gift" finally kicks in, the film spends the next ten minutes showing exactly what this means in very small, very repetitive words.

I expected this to be worse that it was, but that's no consolation. You may as well decide before you sit down to watch this whether you're going to enjoy it or not, because the film will do precisely nothing to change your mind either way. Other audience members in the room had a great time. I grew bored and impatient in equal measure.


Now please don't get me wrong, What Men Want doesn't have anywhere near the amount of tonal issues carried by something like I Feel Pretty. If anything, the suggestive nature of the poster above is kept to something of a minimum. The predominantly male makeup of Ali's workplace means that a lot of the internalised angst and whimsy is centered around petty competitiveness and social anxiety rather than more predictable, libidinous, punchlines.

This aspect is covered of course - and those moments arrive with the subtlety demanded of a 15-rated comedy - but the film occasionally seems to be aiming for a message that in the 21st century, men and women have more in common than they do separating them. Does this make What Men Want a more interesting, more worthy film? Absolutely not. The cloying, cack-handed moralising*1 is as incoherently handled as the mechanics of the plot itself, which makes precisely no sense at every turn. The film has, at a fundamental level, every opportunity to rise above its neon-pink contemporaries, yet has no real idea what to say or how to say it*2.

But if in doubt, get Taraji to do big eyes and yell "Oh hell no!". Again. Apparently that's like having a joke, except you don't have to write one.

What Men Want? Well in this case, for the film to have been made a quarter of a century ago, so that it might blag some level of charm, relevance, insight or wit, rather than being a one-note, retrograde and indelibly lazy farce for people who still think that En Vogue and Salt-n-Pepa are contemporary cultural references.
That would be a start...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Well, What Women Want I imagine, since it's a retooling of that.
Not that I've seen the earlier film. And not that I will, now

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is not.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Maybe stream it if you're curious, but there's little-to-no reason for this to end up either on your shelf or cluttering up your hard-drive.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It is not.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's likely, yes.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is not.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voice of Neeku Vozo is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Oh no! The guy who works at the bar is a single parent with a dead wife (and a kid who can't act)! How dare Ali, and by extension the audience, judge him without getting him to write out the last ten years of his life, longhand? Well, he's still picked up a lone female for a one-night stand in the pub where he works by mixing her a "special cocktail" which he refuses to divulge the ingredients of before he's pressured her into drinking it. Am I meant to believe it's the first time he's done that? Creepy af, mate. [ BACK ]

*2 Now I know there's a chance you could be reading this thinking 'oh, you're only being down on this because it's centered around a woman - if the film was about a man having a comedic journey in which he learns the value of openness and friendship in the unforgiving corporate world you'd be all over that!'. To which I'd assure you, no I fucking wouldn't. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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