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You Go, Girl!



What Women Want (PG-13)
Paramount Pictures

A few years ago, there was a proposal by some corporation to place giant advertisements in space, a type of flying billboard floating above us in the stratosphere. Either due to technical limitations or the objections of the multitudes (probably the former), the plan was scrapped for the time being.

It is still safe to scan the heavens and not be inundated with advertising. It is not, however, safe to go to the multiplex. In addition to the type of spinoff marketing perfected by George Lucas with Star Wars, where the film is a vehicle for toy marketing, in addition to the product placement practiced by every studio director in Hollywood, and, of course, in addition to the ads that are now run before feature films in most movie theaters, we have a new generation of advertisement best demonstrated in What Women Want.

Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) is a chauvinistic advertising executive whose boss (Alan Alda) passes him over for a promotion in favor of Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) who is supposed to help their Chicago ad firm get more of a female touch to tap into the huge purchasing power of today's women. Soon thereafter, Nick has an accident with a hairdryer and a bathtub that somehow miraculously makes him able to hear what women think. Nick uses his newfound power to get better in bed (who can argue with that?), forge a better relationship with his teenage daughter (good man), and undermine Darcy in her new position (oh). Of course, in the process of learning what women want, he also falls in love with Darcy and therein lies the rub.

There's plenty of cute stuff in this film, from the use of the delicious Gibson in funny scenes where he does the difficult and uncomfortable things that women do, like wax their legs or put on their pantyhose without tears.

"Yeah!" you want to yell when the macho Gibson rips the hair off his legs and screams, "See what we go through just for you." And we empathize with the hapless Hunt, who longs for everyone to understand that she isn't really a ball buster in her job, just a nice girl doing a hard job.

But along with that women-feel-good stuff comes some of the most intense product placement I can remember. Advil features prominently. Evian. Wonder Bra. But, most of all, Nike, as the plot of What Women Want is cleverly structured around the development of an ad campaign for Nike women's shoes. We think about Nike. We hear the name spoken over and over.

We experience the gorgeous ad when fully developed and narrated by the stunning Gibson. We see the sympathetic, multicultural Nike women executives believing in their product. Sheesh.

What do women want? According to What Women Want, we want empathy, sympathy, love and a good time in bed, preferably with Mel Gibson. Duh. And we want Nike shoes, or we will, if the filmmakers have their way.

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