Directed by: Adam Shankman
Written by: Tina Gordon, Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Josh Brener, Erykah Badu, Richard Roundtree
It’s one thing to hear someone but truly listening makes a huge difference. A fine message in a film that lands some decent comedy quips but adds nothing new to the premise of hearing the thoughts of men.
Hustling and bustling as a sports agent, Ali (Taraji P. Henson) delivers exceptional work and believes the next partnership opportunity in her agency belongs to her. Unfortunately, a man takes her place once again as Ali realizes that she will never get the promotion in the male-dominated company. She then suffers an injury that allows her to hear the thoughts of men, which she can use to her advantage.
This interesting premise made its way into public consciousness with Nancy Meyers’s What Women Want and this film utilizes it the same way. The protagonist uses the ability to try and get ahead in their profession but also assists them in the romance arena as well. A fun premise, for sure, because our thoughts seem to be the safest places for our ideas. As humans, we’ve all cursed people out in our thoughts, along with professing love and making bold statements. Everything we’re too frightened to say out loud. Having those ideas exposed produces much of the comedy within the film.
After putting in work in “prestige” films like Hidden Figures and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Taraji P. Henson has jumped into more genre material where she gets the opportunity to be the main star. Each of them not being anything great but the charm she brings to this particular character elevates what stands as a decent film. Her character has a composed, yet wildly expressive side that she lets out when not surrounded by her co-workers. She does much of the heavy lifting in What Men Want and it’s always a pleasure seeing her have fun with a role like this.
The messaging behind this film looks into where women stand in the workplace. Ali works in a sports agency dominated by men. One of the first scenes of the film shows Ali in a boardroom with the other prominent members of the agency and her being the only woman. The arena of sports surrounds primarily men. Many of the sponsorships and major deals in sports worldwide belong to men. Women have made incredible strides in the past few decades, but when looking at who scores the big contracts and endorsements, the landscape leans heavily male. Ali tries to navigate a world where her femininity becomes a roadblock to landing the right promotion or the right client. Not only does she not get promoted but her big plan to receive the proper recognition relies on signing the next big superstar.
In that quest, she contends with many hoops she must go through simply because of her sex. During her attempts to sign Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie), she must curry favor with his father, Joe (Tracy Morgan). Several times throughout the runtime, Joe mentions why he cannot work with women and Ali tries to rectify that issue. The inherent problem with her trying to “rectify” these issues lies in a standard being placed on her that her male colleagues don’t need to adhere to. One being that Joe does not like working with women who don’t have a family. An absurd statement that he does not hold against the male sports agents at any other agency. That provides the hijinx of Ali trying to piece together a family for the sake of landing a client. Joe represents the roadblocks women have to traverse in order to get equal footing. It serves as an indictment on the industry and further illustrates the biases in workplaces.
Expectedly, the film does not dive too deep into that discussion but its light glaze over offers more than many comedies. The humor lands 50% of the time and Henson gives a fun performance. Nothing about What Men Want reinvents the wheel, but it utilizes that said wheel to its advantage.