What Men Want Aug 12, 2019 15:02:38 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Aug 12, 2019 15:02:38 GMT -5
What Men Want (2019)
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Directed by: Adam Shankman
Taraji P. Henson in What Men Want.
Marginally better than the marketing made it out to be — what has inadvertently become my go-to phrase for films that impress me more than the trailer would have me believe — What Men Want is still victim to the usual pitfalls of contemporary comedy. It horrifically sabotages its subtext with cheap racial stereotyping, and Taraji P. Henson is far above this lame-duck material. There are positives: Tracy Morgan is good as a LaVar Ball caricature, plus there are faint earnest anecdotes scattered throughout this still-too-long flick. It would be a modestly serviceable airplane movie, if that sort of thing tickles your fancy.
The film is a gender/race-swapped remake of What Women Want, a trend that appears to be all the rage these days with Ghostbusters, Ocean's 8, and The Hustle (a remake of the 1988 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) coming out relatively recently. What Women Want was a film in which Mel Gibson played a terribly sexist male executive who gains the ability to hear the internal thoughts of the women around him, which magically made him realize that he is indeed a chauvinistic pig. This updated version stars Taraji P. Henson as Ali, a female sports agent who has tried her best to fit in with her male peers, but it isn't until she gains the ability to hear men's thoughts from a psychic's (Erykah Badu) potion that she realizes everyone around her views her as rigid and self-absorbed.
A comedy that could meaningfully confront sexism in the workplace, What Men Want instead follows this ballbusting caricature around as she tries to use her newfound powers to impress her peers by signing a projected number one NBA draft pick (Shane Paul McGhie). She tries her best to convince him and his overprotective, quirky father (Tracy Morgan) that her and her company are the best option for his kid. She also becomes infatuated with a handsome, single father (Aldis Hodge), whom she unfairly posits as her husband and his kid as her's in order to show the athlete's father that she is indeed a family woman, something he claims he wants to see in the women he meets.
Where What Men Want works is when it shows the true range of Henson as an actress. Here's a veteran performer who, ever since her breakout role in Hidden Figures has struggled to find an adequate followup, is yet again unfairly typecast as a loud, brazen cartoon character. It happened in last year's long forgotten misfire Proud Mary and it happens again here, as Henson — who has done great work in supporting performances throughout her career, from John Singleton's Baby Boy to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — and her talents are cheapened by material that make her out to be a bad stereotype of her gender and race, to no fault of her own. By the second half of the film, when there's a little bit more leeway granted to her Ali character in the form of more dramatic scenes, she's allowed to show her capabilities, but for much of this, she's an unlikable and thoroughly unamusing caricature of what she could ultimately be had the trio of writers (one of them Tina Gordon Chism of Little fame) given her at least a little credit.
A film about a woman unfairly overlooked in the workplace is ripe for deconstruction, but sadly, What Men Want gives us very little opportunity amidst its broad comedy. If you're going to bother to resurrect a dusty product of its time, you should at least be prepared to do something subversive with it. What Men Want further establishes that if you want to see new themes about contemporary problems, you're likely going to have to turn away from mainstream ventures, which is a sad statement in itself.
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Josh Brener, Shane Paul McGhie, Tracy Morgan, Richard Roundtree, Erykah Badu, and Wendi McLendon-Covey. Directed by: Alan Shankman.