The truth is that women know what men want.
The genius stroke of What Men Want, a gender-swapping spin on Nancy Meyers' 2000 film What Women Want starring Mel Gibson as an arrogant ad exec who learns humility and humanity when he gains the power to read womens' minds, is that it fully realizes that women already know what men want and they don't need to have the power to read mens' minds because it's not exactly difficult.
Let's be honest...culture.
Women know what men want and think and feel.
What Men Want isn't so much about what men want. It's about what Ali (Taraji P. Henson) wants.
A cousin to Henson's Think Like a Man films, What Men Want stars Henson, who also executive produced the film, as Ali, so named because her boxing coach father (played by a refreshing to see Richard Roundtree) named her after his favorite boxer, a sports agent living in a world of rampant toxic masculinity who becomes toxic to survive it and ends up losing herself.
What Men Want, when it comes down to it, is about Ali finding herself again.
There's just an awful lot of laughs along the way.
When we meet Ali, she's sort of the outlier in a high-powered sports agency helmed by Nick (Brian Bosworth), a bro's bro who largely dismisses Ali's clientele mix of mostly Olympic champions in favor of those championed by "the guys" with the NFL stars, basketball players, and MLB pros. Despite Ali's hopes that she's next up for a shot at partner in the firm, it's apparent from the moment those words come out of her mouth that there's no way that's going to happen.
However, after drinking some funky ass tea from a psychic named Sister (a terrific Erykah Badu) causes her to inexplicably gain the power to read mens' minds, suddenly it would seem that Ali is on her way including potentially landing up-and-coming baller Shane Paul McGhie despite his over-protective, Lavar Ball-inspired father (played hilariously by Tracy Morgan).
At first, What Men Want goes the stereotypical way as Ali listens in and doesn't so much gain knowledge but gains the upper hand in her dealings with men by meeting them where they're at. Eventually, however, What Men Want rights its course and becomes the funny, inspired film that it's meant to be as Ali worries less about meeting men in their world and instead begins redefining her own. It's not exactly Eastern enlightenment here, but it feels a whole lot more honest.
Henson, easily one of the more under-appreciated actresses working today, is absolutely terrific here as Ali. She infuses Ali with this brash awfulness early on, from relentlessly harassing her long-suffering assistant (Josh Brener) to joining all-night poker games with the guys or objectifying the men herself. However, she always keeps Ali accessible enough that it seems like there's something more bubbling underneath the surface that's eventually going to come to life.
Eventually, it does.
Directed by Adam Shankman, What Men Want has the usual expected bit roles and cameos from Pete Davidson to a hilarious Kellan Lutz to Wendi McLendon-Covey and Phoebe Robinson as Ali's friends and folks like Mark Cuban, Shaquille O'Neal and a host of others who show up throughout the film.
There's nothing brilliant going on in What Women Want, though it's a smarter than expected comedy that also manages to entertain along the way with an abundance of laughs and a few life lessons that feel genuine rather than inspired by some Hollywood studio exec mansplainin' his way through what women want.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic