DIRECTOR: Renée Webster

CAST: Sally Phillips, Caroline Brazier, Erik Thomson, Alexander England, Myles Pollard, Tasma Walton, Cameron Daddo, Nina Young, Ryan Johnson, Roz Hammond, Asher Yasbincek, Hayley McElhinney, Josh Thomson, Emily Rose Brennan, Ben Mortley

RUNNING TIME: 107 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A middle-aged woman (Phillips) starts an all-male cleaning company, with surprising results…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Public consensus towards sex work seems to be steering toward a more accepting and positive viewpoint, especially with recent films like Pleasure and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande reframing the once-taboo subject from a more feminist angle. The Australian comedy How to Please a Woman is the latest such film to do so, albeit to not quite as eye-opening or even that provocative an effect, but is still a fairly decent and wholesome attempt.

Written and directed by Renée Webster, How to Please a Woman follows Gina (Sally Phillips), a fifty-something woman who has seemingly settled into a mundane lifestyle, bookended by early morning ocean swimming with her gal pals, and passionless interactions with her lawyer husband Adrian (Cameron Daddo), with a mundane job in between. Gina appears to have repressed her own sexual nature so hard, that when her friends hire male stripper Tom (Alexander England) to show up at her front door for her birthday, she asks if he can clean her house instead. The incident, however, gives Gina a light-bulb moment: she takes leadership at Tom’s other job, a failing removals service, and transforms it into a sex-centric cleaning business, wherein well-build lads like Tom show up to women’s houses and provide them with pleasure as well as actual housecleaning. However, as Gina struggles to get her new business up and running, she eventually begins to accept and embrace her own sexual needs which, at this point in her life, she feels as though she’s earned.

Though How to Please a Woman certainly promotes itself as a raunchy comedy, the film is surprisingly light on most sex-crazed shenanigans. There are definitely scenes that could have come out of any American Pie movie, like one that involves a vibrator and an exercise bike, but those are really far and few in between, with the rest of the movie favouring a more tender and even grounded tone that carries much of the plot. In a sense, it’s refreshing to see a movie like this treat its somewhat wacky premise with a resounding maturity, focusing much more on the euphoric impact that sex has on women of a certain age, rather than just letting the characters bang without a whole lot of consequences.

While there aren’t a whole lot of laugh-out-loud moments, at least not as many as implied by the trailer, there is clearly a more sensitive touch applied to the on-screen sexual antics by writer-director Webster. The filmmaker never sets out to shame women or men for flexing their own desires, and instead uses common comedic practises (like one of the men being rubbish in bed, or insecure about their own build) as ways to show both characters and viewers how to evolve their methods to really satisfy the woman. In the film, Gina recruits some of her more sexually active girlfriends to show her male sex workers, who are not immediately sex gods despite their handsome features, gentler and more arousing methods which are far from the misleading positions often found in pornography. It’s one of the many little touches that Webster applies to her film that really make it a more thoughtful and even smart alternative to the traditional sex comedy, and like Good Luck to You, Leo Grande before it, How to Please a Woman promotes a necessarily feminine approach which does give it a rather wholesome nature.

Most of the film rests on lead Sally Phillips to anchor the grounded and feel-good (in many, many senses) plot that it’s working with, and luckily the actress has enough light-heartedness and charm to make her transition from repressed housewife to more adventurous businesswoman feel entirely natural. You do buy why her reserved character would suddenly take a keen interest in running this covert sex worker agency, because Phillips lends a wide-eyed curiosity to the chiselled “four-pack” of her younger employee Tom (played with a reasonable amount of charisma normally reserved for a Hemsworth) which, in direct contrast to her own sex-free marriage – parts of which are just heart-breaking to watch – gives her what she’s been missing for so many years. The actress uses that to drive her character’s strong development, and she makes the most of it in refreshingly subtle ways during a type of genre where nuance is often an afterthought.

It is a sweet and likeable film, filled with smart messages about women embracing their sexuality, and while it perhaps lacks the genuine laughs or even intelligence it needs to compete with something like Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, there is a nice, warm feeling one gets from watching it all the same.

SO, TO SUM UP…

How to Please a Woman is a charming and likeable sex-positive comedy which, like more refined recent examples like Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, promotes a healthy message about middle-aged sexuality that may lack a considerable amount of necessary laugh, but just about makes up for that by adopting a more sensual and (yes) mature tone that makes it a little smarter than the average sex comedy.

How to Please a Woman is now available to stream on Sky Cinema and NOW TV.

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