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Mel Gibson
"Who doesn't have to grapple with sexual dynamics?"
 real 28k

Nancy Meyers
"Most of my movies are about the battle of the sexes"
 real 28k

Saturday, 16 December, 2000, 01:22 GMT
Gibson breaks new ground
Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson as you've never seen him before
By BBC News Online's New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

This weekend American moviegoers will be able to witness Mel Gibson making his first foray into romantic comedy when his latest picture, What Women Want, opens at thousands of cinemas.

This film presents some startling images of Gibson. At various points in the movie he dons women's tights, waxes his legs and dances.

Gibson plays the flirtatious Nick Marshall, a sexist Chicago advertising executive, who after a freak accident develops the ability to hear women's uncensored internal thoughts.

Mel Gibson
Gibson turns in a strong performance as the sexist turned New Man
This magical faculty enables his character to truly empathise with the opposite sex. As a result he is transformed into the ultimate sensitive male.

It is also a gift that gives him the power to steal the creative ideas that lie within the mind of his new boss, Darcy Maguire, played by Helen Hunt.

Initially Gibson's character is resentful towards Darcy because she has been given the top job he thought he would get.

But eventually his special magical gift helps him to develop a closeness with her, and ultimately the two fall madly in love.

Sexual dynamics

What Women Want bears some resemblance to those old Hollywood films that depicted the battle between the sexes.

Gibson admits: "It was a change of pace for me, this kind of stylistic change is not usually steered in my direction, I was always a fan of those old movies."

The picture works partly because in real-life Gibson has the reputation of being a macho man. This makes it all the more intriguing to see him playing the sensitive male.

Helen Hunt
Helen Hunt plays Gibson's boss and love interest, Darcy Maguire
Nancy Meyers, the film's director, says she cast the actor because he is "known for being a man's man.

"I thought if I could make him a sensitive man, other men in the audience would be open to that."

The film's promoters hope the light-hearted look at sexual politics will resonate with both men and women.

Gibson himself thinks it will definitely have broad appeal.

"Who amongst us doesn't wake up every day and on some level or other have to grapple with sexual dynamics, whether it's at work, in your personal married life, whatever it is you have to deal with the opposite gender," he says.

What Women Want is at is best and funniest when it is displaying Nick Marshall's ability to hear what women are thinking.

Unfortunately the romance that Hunt and Gibson bring to the screen is not nearly as entertaining.

Nor are three other interwoven stories that deal with Nick Marshall's relationship with his daughter, another woman and a depressed employee.

Nancy Meyers
Nancy Meyers: Lighthearted look at sexual politics
The father-daughter relationship is the only sub-strand that really works - the others are loose ends that do not go anywhere.

This film also is not helped by very heavy-handed direction from Nancy Meyers.

She keeps making the characters tell us what we are about to see, then goes ahead and shows us, leaving little to the imagination.

What Women Want is clearly a market-tested movie trying to reach a mass audience.

It is a simplistic formula film based on the concept that if you put Mel Gibson into a romantic comedy, give his character magical powers, and have him fall in love, you have a hit. It may well work.

'Outrageous premise'

As Gibson points out, it may be a fantasy but it does deal with the reality of male-female relationships.

"Although its an outrageous premise and way over the top, in the mechanics of it what the director Nancy Meyers has managed to do is pinpoint in on little nuggets of truth," he says.

Gibson has not harmed himself by venturing into romantic comedy. He could have made a fool of himself but his acting is strong and he acquits himself well.

He turns 45 next month and cannot go on forever doing strong action-oriented roles. What Women Want could be the vehicle that permits him to expand his already extensive repertoire.

In career terms it is a shrewd move that will gives this $25m-a-picture Hollywood star even more currency at the box office.

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