Admittedly, What Men Want could’ve been its own original idea rather than a gender-flipped remake of the Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want from 2000. Only because it’s a part of an ongoing trend of gender-flipping old properties when they could easily give actresses their own original properties. That being said, What Men Want still manages to be an amusing comedy that dissects gender and racial discrimination in the workplace. Plus, it’s proof that Taraji P. Henson can carry a film like it’s literally nobody’s business.
Henson plays Allison “Ali” Davis, a sports agent who just can’t catch a break. She works as hard, if not harder, than her male colleagues yet when a big promotion comes up in her agency, she gets passed up. But after an encounter with a psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu), she gains the ability to hear men’s thoughts. Ali then decides to use her power to outsmart her colleagues in order to sign an incoming basketball star, Jamal Barry (Shane Paul Maghie), as the NBA Draft draws near. In the process, she finds love with a single parent named Will (Aldis Hodge) who causes her to question what it is that men truly want along with her pursuit to outrank the men she works with.
A character like Ali could’ve easily been interpreted as completely thorny and unlikeable. She’s always trying to get ahead in a competitive field even if she’s a woman of color trying to make it in a white man’s world. However, she manages to be a character worth rooting for thanks to the whimsical charms of Taraji P. Henson. Despite the material she’s given being decent at best, Henson proves that no matter how subpar or bad the film she’s in may be, she will bring it every time. Even the painfully underwhelming Proud Mary was worth watching thanks to her star power.
In addition, Henson is surrounded by a solid supporting cast. For instance, Josh Brener is a comedic scene stealer as Ali’s witty gay assistant Brandon along with Tracy Morgan as Joe Barry, Jamal’s overbearing father, and Erykah Badu as the eccentric Sister. Meanwhile, Aldis Hodge (also great in the Sundance sensation Clemency, just FYI) gives us a likeable love interest in the form of Will while Richard Roundtree provides genuine paternal warmth as Ali’s father.
That being said, the screenplay still goes places where you would expect it to go. Also, the relationship between Ali and her friends isn’t delved into deep enough. However, there are some laughs to be found like a reference to Get Out and some of the ways that Ali reacts as she’s listening to men’s thoughts. Other than that, What Men Want ends up being a rather standard rom-com.
But in spite of its familiarity, What Men Want is still worth seeing thanks to Taraji P. Henson’s charming performance and its slight examination of gender politics. Despite it not providing too much laughs and how it could’ve been its own original property, those factors are easy to overlook thanks to the film’s crowd pleasing nature.