Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I'm going to go out on a limb here, but it sounds like Mel Gibson -- audio of the actor screaming at his girlfriend over the phone was recently released online -- might have saved himself some trouble if he'd bothered to learn from a character he played 10 years ago. I don't know, maybe he doesn't have a DVD player at home, or there's a long wait on Netflix for this particular film, so he's got something else queued up.

Anyway, in "What Women Want," (2000) Mel plays lothario Nick Marshall, an advertising exec who gets passed over for a much-expected promotion -- by a woman! Sorry, his boss tells him, but we need to tap into women's markets; you can get inside women's pants better than anyone on earth, but you certainly can't get inside their psyches. Nick's face falls when he learns the new creative director will not be him, but rather the reputed ball-buster Darcy Maguire (played by Helen Hunt). 

While trying on pantyhose and other feminine products to get into women's heads, Nick slips and falls and gets electrocuted in the shower, which magically doesn't kill him, but rather enables him to hear what women are thinking. At first, he uses his new skill to his own advantage -- he beds a local barista, and steals ad ideas from Darcy -- but finally learns to listen to women, and care about what they say, which is what, the movie has it, they wanted all along. Naturally, Nick falls in love with Darcy, which he could only do by listening to her, and appreciating her for who she is, rather than strictly for what she has to offer him. Darcy has of course been falling for him, too. 

Conveniently, having learned to listen, Nick gets a repeat electric charge (this time from a lightning bolt), and is freed of the special power he no longer needs. One last thing remains to seal their love. Feeling guilty of conscience, Nick confesses to Darcy that he's been taking advantage of her, lifting her ideas. So she fires him. But this being a romantic comedy, she forgives him right away, and they're stronger than ever before and on track to live happily ever after.

Again, I may be overreaching here, but something tells me that Mel Gibson neglected to review this important lesson -- listen to people, appreciate them, open yourself to love -- before he told his girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva that she looked like a whore and threatened to burn her house down. Perhaps Mel never had the advantage of actually being able to hear what women think, but a simple replay of his own two-hour movie, or maybe reading up on active listening would have done the trick!

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As an aside, I'd like to add a note about the ending. "What Women Want" follows a certain romantic comedy structure. The romantic comedy genre practically demands that the romantic leads hook up in the end; from the conventions of film, we know pretty much for a fact that the story will end happily ever after. And yet the filmmakers have to inject just enough doubt about the outcome, in order to keep us in suspense, and keep us watching the whole film. Often, the very last obstacle to the couple comes about 5-10 minutes before the ending. In the case of "What Women Want," it's when Darcy fires Nick. The producers could have made me happy by lobbing off the last 5-7 minutes. In my version, then, Nick would have paid the consequences of his betrayal, and Darcy would remain on the job and move on from her heartache. How I'd love it if more filmmakers just chopped off the last few redemptive minutes of their films, and see how that changes things.

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