In the current cultural mood there’s a movement to “cancel” terrible men who have a history of abuse and other awful behavior. One of those often targeted is Mel Gibson, who ever really apologized for that anti-Semitic rant he went on, instead just lying low for a while before mounting a comeback a couple years ago.
One way of doing that, it seems, is remaking his movies starring women of color. That’s basically what’s happening with this week’s What Men Want, a loose remake of Gibson’s What Women Want. In this version Taraji P. Henson stars as Ali Davis, a sports agent who is having trouble getting ahead in her male-dominated company.
After drinking some whacked-out tea and hitting her head, Ali develops the ability to read men’s thoughts. She uses that to anticipate their actions and position herself accordingly, working against their weaknesses and getting out ahead of challenges. She finds there are downsides to what she can do, though, even if the results are hilarious.
Ali is front and center, standing amidst a crowd of people and holding a pair of baseballs in her hand to symbolize…yeah. That she can read men’s minds is stated at the top, but the overall design is pretty boring and not all that funny at all which is a shame.
The same tagline – “She can hear men’s thoughts. Let the games begin” – is used on the second poster, which just features Henson and costar Tracy Morgan standing next to each other against a blank blue background. It’s even more uninspired than the first one, which is impressive.
The first trailer is exactly what you would expect it to be. We see Ali as she’s passed over for a promotion at work for vague and clearly sexist reasons. When her friends convince her to see a psychic and she has an accident she develops the ability to read men’s’ thoughts, an ability she puts to use to gain the advantage she needs to finally get ahead.
A red-band trailer from late November offered many of the same beats, just with a few additional curse words and the freedom to explain all the ingredients in the tea Ali drinks. She’s also shown to be unrepentantly sexual, using her new abilities to figure out what men are really thinking about during sex and more.
Online and Social
The website just has the trailer, a synopsis, ticket-buying prompts and links to official social media profiles. So nothing much and certainly not anything all that engaging.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’m not sure if this was a TV spot but a minute-long “Rules” video played like one, showing audiences the basic premise while offering more information on the movie’s website.
Media and Publicity
A “Special Look” released last month offered an extended clip focused on Ali using her mind-reading skills to make sure she and a partner have a good time in bed. Another clip featured Ali in the car with her assistant and realizing what she can do.
Henson hosted a red carpet event in Atlanta while the director and producer shared what happened when they took the movie on the road to select screenings across the country. Henson also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as part of the publicity for the movie.
Others from the cast, including Morgan and costar Max Greenfield, also did a bit of publicity while some stories focused on the way the movie takes on gender inequality, something that’s only hinted at in the trailers.
There are some interesting choices in the campaign, including how it sometimes loses focus on Henson’s Ali in favor of the men around her. That makes some amount of sense, but there’s also no attempt to show much of Ali’s overall arc and what happens as a result of the abilities she gains beyond the overtly comedic.
It would have been a much more engaging campaign if it had shown it tackles more substantively issues like gender or racial inequality. Henson is so funny but also such a wonderful actor that the campaign wouldn’t have lost anything if it had been more overtly socially relevant.
Picking Up the Spare
Another TV appearance by Henson, this time on “The Late Show.”