Review – What Men Want (2019)

Loosely based upon the 2000 film, What Women Want, Adam Shankman’s What Men Want continues the recent brand of gender-flipped remakes deriving from Hollywood. While swapping in Taraji P. Henson for Mel Gibson in the lead role is the ultimate glow-up, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t follow suit, offering a rather stale, unfulfilling rom-com that rarely capitalises on its potential.

When Ali Davis (Henson) fails to receive a deserving partnership at her sports agent firm, she parties away her blues with a potent concoction given to her by a shaman; following a bang to her head, she gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts and begins to outsmart her male colleagues in the race to sign the next basketball superstar. However, her newfound abilities begin to put a strain on her relationships — but can she let them go? Co-starring Tracy Morgan, Aldis Hodge and Josh Brener, Shankman’s rom-com may attempt to explore what men want but audiences will likely be clamouring for something better than this.

You will know pretty early on whether What Men Want will work for you: the quirky premise and brand of comedy present itself early on, and the hit-or-miss comedy in the first act is indicative of the rest of the picture’s rate of success. There are a few laughs peppered across the bloated 117-minute runtime but little weight to anything; it’s as forgettable as they come, particularly disappointing given the rich promise in its premise. At such a socially conscious moment in history, an exploration of men’s inner thoughts is overflowing with interesting ideas and opportunities for profound social commentary; but instead, the film largely plumps for cheap gags and obvious humour. It employs conventions like they are going out of fashion, with Tina Gordon, Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck’s screenplay completely unchallenging in its approach and considerations.

Adam Shankman lands on a few decent set pieces that help to ensure the film isn’t entirely devoid of entertainment value; again, if you’ve tempered your expectations accordingly, and accept that this is a surface-level comedy only, you can still find enjoyment in it. There’s little to set it out from the crowd visually but it’s polished well enough, with decent production values to hold your interest.

Thankfully, Henson is the film’s saving grace and she delivers a committed lead performance. Her magnetism is evident and while her talents as a comedic actress are never fully realised by the script, she tries her damned hardest to sell the gags for all their worth; again, it’s mightily disappointing that the script doesn’t give her more to work with, sticking with the same tried-and-tested content that could be churned out by any performer – hindered further by the familiarity of the ‘woman bangs her head’ premise, a la I Feel Pretty and Isn’t It Romantic in the past twelve months alone. But Henson puts the effort and elevates the film considerably, making it an ultimately rather likeable (if frustrating) experience.

Josh Brener is the film’s MVP runner-up, with a charismatic performance that attempts to overcome the stereotypes of the ‘gay sidekick’; it doesn’t always work but it’s not through lack of trying. Brener’s sunny disposition and witty delivery give the film some zest. You often find yourself wishing the film was focusing more attentively on his character development and cute romance subplot

As someone who naturally gravitates towards female-led comedies, What Men Want is a disappointing effort that fails to fully-realise its lead’s charisma in the role. Unless mistaken, this is the third ‘woman suffers a bang to her head which temporarily fixes her problems and teaches her that the powers she received were inside of her all along’ audiences have received in less than twelve months and unfortunately, despite the talent on tap, the weakest one too. It has few original ideas and rehashes comedy we’ve seen before; it’s watchable but it’s unbelievably forgettable.

What Men Want had to really smash the zeitgeist but unfortunately, despite the effort of Taraji P. Henson, it doesn’t even take a swing.

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