Film and TV

Erykah Badu and Mark Cuban Display Their Comedic Finesse in What Men Want

Erykah Badu at the Dallas screening of What Men Want.
Erykah Badu at the Dallas screening of What Men Want. Peter Larsen
Before Mel Gibson’s image as a drunken anti-Semite became permanently seared into the public’s collective memory, he was Hollywood royalty and, as such, was a natural pick to star in the 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want.

In that film, Gibson assumes the role of a promiscuous advertising executive who gets electrocuted in his bathtub while holding a hairdryer. While such an event would easily kill any lesser human, Gibson’s character not only survives but miraculously acquires the ability to read women’s minds. His power leads to an eventual attraction toward Helen Hunt’s character, a coworker at the ad agency who was hired to broaden the firm’s reach to women.

The movie possesses some earmarks of a cliché rom-com but effectively lampoons the misogyny of corporate America and the toxic masculinity within our culture that uses the quantity of sexual conquests as validation of manliness. While Gibson’s name has aged worse than food pantry produce, the movie itself still holds up.

This is most evidenced by the new Adam Shankman rom-com, What Men Want, which reimagines What Women Want in a universe sans Gibson where the gender is flipped and a woman acquires the ability to read men’s minds.

click to enlarge Mark Cuban - PETER LARSEN
Mark Cuban
Peter Larsen

Dallas R&B legend Erykah Badu appears in this film as an eccentric weed dealer/hair salon psychic, and while her aggregate screen time was rather brief, it was a crucial pivot for the plot. Mark Cuban also makes a cameo appearance during a poker game in which he thinks to himself, “I need to start playing with rich people,” while sitting at the same table as Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill.

Cuban’s acting record speaks for itself in the films in which he has appeared, such as Sharknado 3 and Like Mike 2: Streetball, so thankfully, his role did not require much in the way of acting, but we asked him anyway if he played poker with poor people to get into the role.

"Yes I am a method actor," he writes jokingly in an email. "I really put myself into the shoes (of) my character."

"Yes I am a method actor. I really put myself into the shoes (of) my character." – Mark Cuban

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Badu’s film credits are also sparse, but at Shankman's and cast member Taraji P. Henson’s suggestion, she was given a role.

Henson plays Ali Davis, a big-shot sports agent who works at a male-dominated agency that blackballs her in promoting over her a less qualified and less tenured candidate for senior vice president. When Davis probes upper management for why she doesn’t get the position, they state that she doesn’t “understand men,” an explanation that triggers insecurity over the state of her romantic and professional life.

Davis attends a bachelorette party, where one of her friends hires a psychic named Sister (Badu). Davis scoffs at what she perceives as a gimmick but nonetheless obliges. Sister starts drawing various cards from a deck (which humorously includes an Uno card) and, to Davis’ surprise, accurately pins down her insecurities and desire to better understand men.

Even with the film being a comedy, Badu serves as comic relief and is the only character completely detached from the turbulence of the movie’s drama. She manages to toe the line between eccentric and cavalier in her demeanor and offers a comic delivery where her idiosyncrasies are an effective punch line.

While Badu’s acting prowess is truly something to behold, it's not surprising. She attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, studied theater at Grambling State University and even taught drama while concentrating on her music career. 
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.