A sort of spiritual (and credited) sequel to the 2000 Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt romcom What Women Want, What Men Want shares a similar conceit but in 2019 the whole thing just feels unnecessary and a bit of a waste of good talent. While the 2000 film gave a male chauvinist the ability to hear women’s thoughts and ultimately make him a more thoughtful, well adjusted human being, this 2019 turn gives the lead, a highly driven female sports agent Ali (Taraji P. Henson) the ability to hear men’s thoughts, but it’s to teach her a lesson she doesn’t necessarily need.
The film is a pretty straight-forward set-up: Ali is so focused on succeeding professionally in a man’s game that she takes advantage of her friends and is a failure at romance—and also seems to be lacking at work because she’s not a “team player” in an office full of revolting alpha males that exclude her from office poker night. The set up is frustrating in itself: how dare Ali not connect to children; how dare she expect to make partner but not know how to break the impenetrable dome of the male ego; how dare Ali take the lead in the bedroom. The film feels like it wants Ali to succeed, but the only way to feel successful is that she MUST have it all: job, romance, friendship all at the exact same time. The messages of this film are SO all over the place that Ali’s boss makes #metoo cracks but it’s Ali who’s the one insisting her young male assistant (played wide-eyed, sardonic, and winningly by Silicon Valley’s Josh Brenner) pull a used condom off the back of her coat.
The part the film gets exactly right is that Ali’s initial reaction to being able to hear men’s thoughts (through drinking ecstacy-laced tea and taking a serious drug-induced hit to the head) is that it’s unrelenting, exhausting, and a curse. Honestly, there’s nothing really revelatory about hearing men’s thoughts, except that Ali can find out which men are cheating on their girlfriends, that one man, her love interest Will (an endearing Aldis Hodge), thinks she’s more attractive than some young waitress at a bar, and most importantly where the office poker night is so she can crash it. Everything else is just a flurry of male anger, lust, and neurosis that in 2019 many women are painfully aware of and many times afraid of.
Acting wise, Henson is delightful to watch as ever. She’s not afraid to look goofy and her face is full of elastic expression. She’s basically the only actor in a very talent stacked cast that gets enough to serve their talents. Richard Roundtree lovely as her father and Erykah Badu steals the entire film as a psychic weed dealer. Beyond that handful, most of the other famous names are playing characters very, very close to the ones that made them famous, but given a lot less funny material.
Tracy Morgan plays the arrogant father of a successful basketball rookie—and it’s very much the same blind know-it-all as his much better character Tracy Jordan in 30 Rock, Max Greenfield plays a bro sports agent that feels like a humorless version of his character Schmidt from New Girl. Wendi McLendon-Covey plays a jaded married girlfriend with the same deadpan that she did in “Bridesmaids” but with less stellar one-liners. All these wasted actors just makes you want to watch their previous work where they were better utilized. Phoebe Robinson truly deserves her own star vehicle after dutifully playing “best friend” roles, and likewise this film was just another waste of her talents—except for a nice little joke as she blew up an inflatable penis.
This is not a necessary film, but beyond all the mixed messages, it is kind of sweet sweet and Taraji P. Henson carries the film with appealing energy. Whether for a Valentine’s date night or a Galentine’s girls hang, it’s an easy crowd-pleaser with a lot of bold-faced names, even if all those names deserve a lot better.