Mel Gibson shows us just what women want in his first-ever romantic comedy — we want Mel Gibson.
Mel plays Nick Marshall, a Chicago advertising executive who is successful at work (he thinks up ideas like the Swedish bikini team) and with the ladies, whom he wheedles and charms but never really thinks about. His ex-wife (Lauren Holly) says that he never understood her, but, even on the day of her marriage to someone else, she still softens when she speaks about him. His 15-year-old daughter says that he is more like an “Uncle Dad” than a father.
Nick is pretty sure he has it all figured out, until the day that instead of getting promoted to Creative Director, he gets a new boss, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt). It turns out that the advertising agency needs to appeal to women consumers, and the Swedish bikini team just does not send the right message. Darcy hands out a pink box filled with products for the staff to explore, and Nick does his best, experimenting with mascara, leg wax, nail polish, and exfoliater. But an accidental near-electrocution leaves him with a new power — the ability to hear women’s thoughts.
At first horrified, Nick realizes that there are some real advantages to being the only straight man in the world who knows how women think. He uses it to manipulate women, including Darcy and a pretty coffee shop waitress (Marisi Tomei). But it turns out that women do not think about Nick the way that he thought they did, and he is forced to think about himself in a new way. Nick has never listened to women before, but now he can’t help it. He sees the damage that he has done, and he begins to correct it. And of course he begins to fall in love with Darcy and to connect to his daughter.
Gibson is sheer heaven in the movie, dancing to Frank Sinatra in his apartment, watching his daughter try on prom dresses, or just reacting to snippits of thoughts he hears from girls, women, and even female dogs as he walks down the street. He has the physical grace of a leading man and the timing and unselfconsciousness of a comic. The script sags in places, but Gibson keeps the movie floating in the clouds.
Parents should know that the movie has stronger language than indicated by the previews. Nick manipulates the waitress into having sex with him by reading her thoughts. He is apalled to hear her thoughts in bed and find out what a poor lover he is. So, he listens to her thoughts and is able to give her an extraordinary experience which leaves her deeply touched. He then forgets all about her, until she confronts him a week later. He take the only out he can think of to explain why he had not called her — he tells her that he is gay.
Nick hears his daughter thinking that she has promised to have sex with her boyfriend on prom night. After an awkward attempt to talk to her about it, he neglects her until crisis strikes. Fortunately, she manages to make the right decision without him, and he is there after the fact to provide some support. Nick drinks a lot, and another character responds to stress by smoking a joint. In an embarassing moment, Darcy says, “A smart person would get very drunk now.” And a character plans to commit suicide.
Families should talk about whether it is hard for men and women to figure each other out, and how they can do better. They may also want to talk about the pressure Nick’s 15-year-old daughter feels to have sex with her 18-year-old boyfriend and how she decides what to do about it. They should also talk about how a small act of kindness can be very important to someone who is coping with depression. (But make sure that children know that clinical depression is a serious illness that cannot be “cured” by a few kind words.)
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “You’ve Got Mail.”