What Men Want (2019)
★ / ★★★★
The problem with “What Men Want,” written by Tina Gordon, Alex Gregory, and Peter Huyck, is that it takes a fantastical premise—waking up the next morning and having the ability to read men’s thoughts following a head injury—and does nothing inspired, surprising, or funny with it. The film suffers from a typical modern comedy malady: actors having to yell their lines as if that could mask the listlessness and boredom of the material. Halfway through, I wished the writers had the ability to recognize that what they were working on was dead on arrival.
This isn’t to suggest that the performers on screen are equally egregious as the script. On the contrary, the lead is enjoyable—as expected given her caliber and charisma. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali, a sports agent so desperate to get a promotion that she is willing to bulldoze through anyone who gets in the way of her goal. As a black woman in a white- and male-dominated workplace, she feels the need to constantly prove herself in order to be considered as an equal. Henson is so enthusiastic in portraying a bossy character—a euphemism—that we can feel the joy behind the portrayal of a mean and extremely uptight persona.
It misses one opportunity to make a genuine or convincing statement right after another. We live in a time when the importance of diversity has made it into the mainstream consciousness. Whether it be of sex, race, sexual orientation, creed, or gender identity, we, as a western society, are aware of the issues broached upon the background of white male dominance. And so why is it that this film is so afraid to tackle real and pressing issues? While it does offer two or three instances where Ali’s gender and race are brought up as a negative within their workplace environment, they are used simply as props; the conflict is never explored in a thoughtful of meaningful way. Yes, the genre is a comedy. But the best comedies are never one-trick ponies. In this case, it is all about the initial shock but no follow through.
I grew weary of the incessant noise. And I do not mean only the constant screaming and yelling. Notice that when Ali is listening to would-be shocking thoughts, the soundtrack is booming in the background. This results in an unpleasant experience; we wish to listen to the thoughts, no matter how random they are, and yet there is wall that gets in the way of us fully appreciating the material. One cannot help but suspect that the use of music is but a mere tool to disguise or hide the more ineffective line of dialogue or entire scenes. The script could have used significant rewrites.
Clocking in at nearly two hours, “What Men Want,” directed by Adam Shankman, is not only devoid of intelligence or insight regarding prejudice, it is also poorly paced. Observe closely at how long it feels for everything to wrap up and it is done in the most ordinary fashion—just so the audience can feel good about themselves. On top of being forced and hyperbolic, the film is a humorless turkey.
About Alex (2014)
★ / ★★★★
Having received news that their friend, Alex (Jason Ritter), had attempted suicide, a formerly tight-knit group of friends from college decide to take a weekend and spend time with him—possibly even learn why he felt compelled to take his life. But Alex’ friends have their own set of problems and being under one roof might not be a good idea.
Written and directed by Jesse Zwick, “About Alex” is a meandering drama, highly frustrating in its style and execution, devoid of any real feelings or insight about friendships and human relationships. With its ironic title—the movie is not at all about Alex but about his so-called friends—the movie is largely a waste of time and I felt disappointed that otherwise good performers have chosen to partake in the film because the material is neither interesting nor does it offer characters that are challenging to play.
The characters are supposed to be in their late-twenties and it comes across so forced that most of them are already so jaded. To me, none of them has overcome true hardship. They are a bunch of complainers. Particularly prickly—and a bit of a prick—is Josh (Max Greenfield), a poseur who thinks that he is too smart and too good for things like social media. His tirades are a bore because the screenplay does not provide an equally forceful character that directly challenges his ideals.
The secret pregnancy regarding Siri (Maggie Grace) and Ben (Nate Parker) is a tired cliché. An interracial couple, I wanted to learn about them as separate individuals as well as partners but the material never dares to touch upon a subject that is worth a real discussion. The picture is a drama and about personal struggles, after all. Instead, we get a inanities like Ben experiencing writer’s block and Siri wanting to take a pregnancy test.
Exchanges between the characters are flat and uninteresting. There is supposed to be conflict simmering just underneath the pleasantries but the actors often have to raise their voices in order to make a point. This means that the script lacks the subtlety to genuinely engage. It is as if the film were taking place inside the mind of a teenager with an average intelligence, has little to no understanding about human psychology and complexities of relationships of people who are almost thirty.
There is nothing wrong with telling a story about narcissistic personalities clashing under one roof. However, there is a way to tell such a story so that the audience understands why each person is worth knowing further. Here, we are provided surface characteristics, the very basic qualities that may make up a person, but not the dirty details that force us to pay attention and feel encouraged to peel through the layers.