Self-centered and egotistical, Chicago-based advertising executive and ladies man Nick Marshall lives for Nick Marshall. He’s divorced and barely has any relationship at all with his 15-year-old daughter, Alex (he thinks she’s 13). So it’s not surprising that Nick hops in and out of bed with whomever he pleases. To “explain” his excesses, the film transports viewers back to Nick’s early childhood in Las Vegas where his mother performed as a showgirl. Nick’s young life revolved around her fast, “sexy” lifestyle. He hung out in dressing rooms where he watched dancers in their skimpy costumes. And he learned how to become a man from chauvinistic male “role models.”
Flash forward to the present. Nick organizes provocative ad campaigns featuring bikini-clad models. He views the fairer sex as little more than objects waiting to be propositioned (a friend tells him that he can get a woman into bed “better than anyone on earth”). Naturally, when Nick is passed over for a promotion in favor of beautiful Darcy Maguire, he becomes jealous and upset. And that’s when his life changes forever. A severe electrical shock gives Nick the ability to hear women’s thoughts (never mind how silly that sounds). For the first time in his life, he understands women. Being the heel he is, however, he considers that more of a curse than a blessing. After all, several of the ladies in his life—including his own daughter—consider him narcissistic and arrogant. And now he knows it. Nick is faced with a crucial decision. How should he use his “eavesdropping” abilities? Will he become a better person? Or will he take his habit of manipulating women to a whole new level?
positive elements: The longer Nick has the ability to read women’s thoughts, the more he realizes how poorly he’s treated them for so many years. He starts to really care for Alex for the first time. At first, she’s leery of her dad’s newfound interest, but Nick proves himself by taking her shopping for a party dress and coming to her rescue when she is abandoned at the prom. He also applauds her decision to remain a virgin when her boyfriend pressures her to have sex (see “Sexual Content” for the negative side to Nick’s interactions with Alex).
Nick wants a real relationship with Darcy, but his jealousy stands in the way. Initially, Nick attempts to undermine her authority through deception and by taking credit for her original advertising ideas. Eventually, however, he realizes love is more important than business success and apologizes for his shady tactics. When Nick hears the thoughts of a depressed, self-described “geek,” he comes to her aid—saving her from imminent suicide. He offers helpful advice to a coworker struggling with a relationship. And he even manages to voice a genuine compliment to his daughter.
One final positive element comprises a subtle illumination of the fact that early childhood exposure to sensual living has lifelong consequences. (So why expose young viewers to sexual obsession in the form of this PG-13 movie?!)
spiritual content: Frustrated with life, Nick goes out on his balcony and shouts towards the sky, “Come on and do your thing,” apparently talking to God. In frustration, Nick says he needs an exorcist to get rid of his telepathic ability.
sexual content: What Women Want is so dedicated to dispensing erroneous advice that even good decisions get twisted. When Alex makes the right choice and decides not to sleep with her boyfriend on prom night, she does so for the wrong reasons. She declares that sex should be saved for when a couple is “in love.” Marriage doesn’t even factor in. Since Nick can hear the unspoken thoughts of women, he is exposed to an array of uncensored monologues. Those include musings about sexual performance, sexual embarrassment (“I hate that you’ve seen me naked”) and homosexuality (“One kiss doesn’t make me a lesbian”). When Nick walks in on Alex and her 18-year-old boyfriend and finds them indulging in heavy petting, he does nothing to discipline his daughter. Alex is more concerned about getting her bra back (it’s on the floor and her dad kicks it to her) than about her dad’s disapproval. What’s more, the film glosses over the fact that Alex is a minor and her boyfriend is an adult. Later, while Alex tries on a dress for the prom, Nick hears her thoughts: “This is what I’ll be wearing the last night I’m a virgin.”
Besides flaunting sexuality visually and philosophically, the idea of using a woman sexually is treated matter-of-factly. Nudity, skimpy outfits, sexual fondling, outrageous innuendo and graphically implied intercourse occupy numerous scenes. Darcy’s thoughts take a vulgar turn when she begins to become attracted to Nick. When Nick beds one of “his women,” he reads her thoughts, giving audiences a much-too-personal play-by-play of their encounter. And that’s not all moviegoers are exposed to in this scene. Nick’s naked body fills the screen—his private parts barely obscured. Later, he lies and tells her he’s gay.
Nick’s office walls are covered with pictures of bikini-clad women (images that only serve to reinforce his disrespect for females). He looks down Darcy’s shirt when she bends over, and looks up a mannequin’s dress. One of his friends makes an obscene gesture mimicking masturbation. Jokes are swapped about oral sex and genitalia.
violent content: When a tub of bathwater and a hair dryer conspire against him, Nick gets zapped with a big jolt of electricity. Two times more, he’s shocked (once on purpose).
crude or profane language: Over a dozen misuses of the Lord’s name. Crass expressions and profanities (including about eight s-words) are common. Nick starts to say the f-word, leaving the audience to fill in the blank.
drug and alcohol content: Dining out with Nick, Darcy quips, “A smart person would get so very drunk now.” Indeed, champagne is this film’s alcoholic beverage of choice. A psychiatrist smokes a joint. Nick smokes cigarettes and gets drunk.
other negative elements: Attempting to come up with an ad slogan, Nick decides to “get in touch with his feminine side” by experimenting with women’s beauty products. He tries on mascara, uses nail polish, puts on pantyhose, and waxes his legs. At one point, Alex and her boyfriend arrive home and find him dressed in nothing but black pantyhose. Nick is only mildly embarrassed and later laughs about it with Darcy. Alex wants to watch the TV show Friends with her father.
conclusion: Nick isn’t the only one who gets shocked in What Women Want. Audiences expecting an endearing, funny love story from the director of 1998’s Parent Trap are in for a huge surprise. The idea that a man could actually read a woman’s thoughts has great potential for producing a hilarious film. But this isn’t it. Positive moments are overshadowed by sexual material, drug and alcohol abuse, foul language, disrespect and liberal attitudes toward cross-dressing, homosexuality and teen sex.