Movie Review: What Men Want (2019)
I was wrong about this movie. On the way to the theater, I was telling my wife how, in magic-realism comedies starring men, the point is for the man to become a better person (“Liar, Liar,” “What Women Want”), while for female leads it’s mostly about furthering the career (“Isn’t It Romantic”); and based on the trailer, this one looked to continue that trend.
Nope. Ali (Taraji P. Henson) uses her mind-reading power to both further her career and become a better person.
I was wrong about this movie in another way. Based on the trailer, I thought it would be somewhat funny.
Ali begins the movie a gung-ho, up-at-3-am, where’s-my-damn-coffee sports agent for megafirm Summit Worldwide Management, whose acronym, SWM, or Straight White Male, is one of the better, subtler jokes here.
She has a gay assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener of “Silicon Valley”), whom she bosses mercilessly, and a dad who runs a boxing gym (Richard Roundtree) and who basically raised her like a boy. She fights to win, has selfish sex, and doesn’t have time for BS—other than hanging with her lady friends on Monday margarita nights.
It’s the day SWM’s president, Nick (Brian Bosworth, surprisingly good), is going to announce a new partner and Ali assumes it’s all hers. It isn’t. It goes to a lesser-talented SWM. She’s furious, but Nick says she’s not signing the big talent, just numerous lesser female athletes, and she needs to land someone like, oh, like future No. 1 NBA draft pick Jamal Berry (Shane Paul McGhie), a nice local kid. The problem is his dad, Joe “Dolla” Berry (Tracy Morgan), who basically acts like Tracy Morgan. So she proclaims to the world, or at least to SWM, that she will sign Jamal Berry.
In “What Women Want,” the 2000 original with Mel Gibson, Mel develops the power to hear women’s thoughts when he gets electrocuted with a hairdryer in the bathtub. Here, the magic realism happens when Ali drinks spiked tea from a voodooish fortune teller, Sister (Erykah Badu, good), then conks her head during a bachelorette party. Voila!
What are men’s thoughts? I mean, aren’t we obvious? Sex and money. Right?
Right. Here, we get the usual “tap that ass” stuff. One of the lines that actually made me laugh out loud was the nice elderly man who looks at Ali and thinks how he should’ve slept with a black girl before he got married. But there’s other stuff, too. Farts. I like that the new SWM partner is full of self-doubt.
What most of the thoughts are not, sadly, is funny.
Ali is initially freaked by her new power—as who wouldn’t be?—but it takes Sister to point out the obvious: Maybe this will help her with the job. It does. She joins the SWM poker game with Joe “Dolla,” keeps winning, then, by reading Nick’s mind, realizes she should let Joe “Dolla” win the last hand. Then to please Joe’s family-friendly declarations, she pretends her latest one-night stand, the impossibly good-looking and extremely dull Will (Aldis Hodge), and his young son, Ben (Auston Jon Moore), are her family.
With Jamal, the firm keeps mucking it up (with an idiotic bling video) and she keeps saving the day; but when the father has the son sign with a league in China, for some reason she’s to blame.
Some of the sexist shit the movie doesn’t untangle and may exacerbate:
- Initially, she doesn’t get ahead because she fights like a man, and men don’t like that from a woman
- Her power allows her to appeal to men rather than compete with them
The movie sees this as a positive, but ... really? Then it introduces the whole “She can read men’s minds but it’s better to know what’s in their hearts” thing. Jamal wants to play in Atlanta; that’s what’s in his heart. Right. It was also in his head at the Atlanta Hawks game. Why make the head/heart distinction on something that was in both?
Bless their hearts
So much else. The little kid, bless his heart, is the worst child actor I’ve seen in years. The gay relationship is treated with a head-patting, “I guess this is OK, too” vibe that feels 15 years behind the times. The actor who plays Jamal is OK but doesn’t seem like a No. 1 draft pick, while Will, as mentioned, is so impossibly perfect as to be a non-entity. At a billiards bar, Ali hears the randy thoughts of her friend’s fiancé but Will won’t give a cute, flirty waitress a second glance. He doesn’t even think, “Don’t look at her. Don’t look at that ass.” It’s like wind through a canyon up there. Shouldn’t this be a turn off? It was to me anyway.
Plus the nicer Ali becomes, the less funny she becomes, and the less funny the movie becomes.
You or I could write the rest of it. In the end, she loses her power but wins it all. She signs Jamal, wins back Will, and announces she’s starting her own firm with the nice white agent at SWM (Max Greenfield), as well as Brandon, who’s long pestered her to become an agent. Earlier she claimed he’d make a lousy one, and she was right, but now we’re in Niceland, where nothing is true and nothing is funny.
Someday, in one of these mind-reading things, I’d like to actually learn something about men or women.