What women want, in director Nancy Meyers’ opinion, is a little respect. Instead of using Aretha Franklin (or Otis Redding) to shout out for some, Meyers (Private Benjamin) utilizes a most unlikely conduit: Mel Gibson. It’s a ballsy move for a pretty-boy action hero (particularly one a decade past his sexiest-man-alive days) to tackle the kind of role where he’s not just parodying a sensitive man but actually becomes a vulnerable one. Gibson — with Alan Alda on hand for moral support — delivers.
Chicago ad exec Nick Marshall (Gibson) is struck by an only-in-the movies affliction: He wakes up one morning able to hear women’s thoughts. His initial reaction is sheer terror. The complacent facade of the women around him is suddenly torn off and his self-image is shattered by their withering observations of his shortcomings. (Too bad Nick, whose Rat Pack masculine posturing is explained away by the fact that his single mother was a Las Vegas showgirl, couldn’t hear what the exploitation-conscious women of his youth really thought.)
When he recognizes this malady as a gift, Nick begins to use it to his advantage, by sabotaging the actions of his agency’s new creative director, Darcy Maguire (the ubiquitous Helen Hunt in one of her most engaging roles). By being able to fulfill women’s unarticulated desires, Nick also elevates his stud status to new heights.
What astonishes this alpha male is that he actually enjoys seeing how the other half lives. His newfound knowledge engenders genuine bonds with women, particularly his distrustful adolescent daughter, Alexandra (Ashley Johnson).
Nick’s radical change of heart mirrors the one Bruce Willis experienced recently in The Kid. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but in Gibson’s surprisingly joyous performance and the equal-standing work-love partnership being formulated by Nick and Darcy, Hollywood — that land of mixed messages — seems to be offering a new paradigm for macho conservative men in search of their humanity.
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