'What Men Want': What the Critics are Saying
The first batch of reviews for 'What Men Want' are mixed.
The reviews are in for Adam Shankman's What Men Want, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Tracy Morgan, Aldis Hodge, Max Greenfield and Josh Brener.
Inspired by Nancy Meyers' 2000 film What Women Want, about a male executive who gains the ability to hear women's thoughts, Shankman's version follows a female sports agent who, while constantly boxed out by her male colleagues, develops an ability to hear men's thoughts.
The film, which releases on Feb. 8, has received lukewarm reactions from critics.
The Hollywood Reporter's Justin Lowe declared the film "a high concept comedy that rarely contradicts genre standards or the formulaic feel-good rulebook that it draws from." He went on to point out a flaw in the premise that restricts the film from reaching its full potential, "Although Ali can hear men’s thoughts, she can’t actually read their minds and consequently misses out on the crucial motivations that inform their behavior."
Lowe praised Shankman's ability to keep the film well-paced with "an accumulation of often hilarious incidents," though notes that the ending results in a "predictably satisfying conclusion."
Indiewire's Eric Kohn considered Henson's role in the film, "The gender-flipped revision gives Taraji P. Henson the welcome opportunity to play a fast-talking hotshot who intimidates male colleagues at every turn, and her energetic performance provides a hysterical, often sobering window into the challenges facing a black woman in a white man’s world. He went on to point out a fundamental downfall, "But the dumb, predictable studio comedy surrounding her plight lacks the same sophisticated bite."
Concluding Kohn's review, he notes that "the ideas don't cut deep," yet the film knows what the audience wants and it makes "desperate stabs at relevance" while seeking to resonate with viewers at the multiplex.
Chicago Tribune's Michael Philipps writes that a strength in the the film is that it "leans into its sincere side," effectively offering "compare-and-contrast lessons in three different and loving father figures played by Tracy Morgan, Aldis Hodge and Richard Roundtree."
Phillips recognizes that the What Men Want is harder on its female protagonist than Meyers' film was on its male equivalent, which "makes a depressing amount of sense, given what women are up against in most workplaces."
The Washington Post's Sonia Rao gave the comedy two out of four stars. The critic wrote that Henson's "lively spirit carries What Men Want, an otherwise so-so gender-flipped remake." The writer also acknowledged Shankman for taking advantage of Henson's strengths, which are "R-rated humor with physical comedy." She continued, "The director loses points for burdening the nearly two-hour movie with a bucket of subplots, few of which receive enough attention to justify their existence."
Rao added that while the remake "avoids some of the pitfalls of gender-flipping," that "doesn't mean it's good." She concluded, "It would make a perfectly fine airplane movie. Or maybe save it for the bachelorette party."
AV Club's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky gave What Men Want a negative review and said the original was "a model of storytelling" compared to the gender-flipped remake. "Though What Men Want is a much raunchier comedy than its predecessor, it is, in many ways, the same kind of bad movie: too damn long, with too many B-plots," wrote Vishnevetsky.
The critic continued that the Mel Gibson-led film features a more fulfilling redemption arc when the main character learns to be a better dad on his way to "better-guy-dom." As for the remake, "The most What Men Want can do to undercut Ali is to suggest that she might be too aggressive in the sack; the most clichéd flaws of male protagonists remain out of reach."
Moira Macdonald from The Seattle Times gave the film with three out of four stars. She wrote that the film could have been "a timely gender-in-the-workplace satire," but instead is a "mostly a straight-up, mildly raunchy rom-com, where everyone learns lessons and gets a happy ending." Macdonald called Henson's performance "zestful," which left the audience asking, "Mel who?"
Newsday's Rafer Guzman also gave the film a lukewarm review. "For a good example of why comedy has become such a difficult profession at a time of shifting norms and heightened sensitivities, look no further than What Men Want," he began in the review. Guzman wrote that while swapping the gender of the main character seems like an easy feat, the team behind the remake proves that it's "harder than it sounds."
Guzman's wrote that Ali's problems- including that she's selfish, aggressive and insensitive- don’t represent female flaws, but instead "a general learn-and-grow fable." He concluded that while Henson remains "a class act" in the film, “What Men Want always seems to be dog-paddling against cultural currents."
Screen Rant's Molly Freeman gave the film a more positive review. She wrote that it is a "solid comedy" and praised Henson's performance. "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," wrote Freeman.
The critic continued that What Men Want "can be clunky at times, undercutting the more authentic and sincere moments."
"The movie largely rests on Henson's shoulders and she carries it well," Freeman added. "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."
Richard Brody in The New Yorker writes that the film "confidently embraces its own power to reach earnest, homespun truths through, above all, the authentic dedication of its actors to the warm spirit of the comedy."
He goes on to argue that Henson brings "strength, radiance, precision and presence" to the gags and playful situations in the film, which in turn "lends the movie's artifices a surprising illusion of substance."