Film & Television

‘How to Please a Woman’—An Unlikely Crusader (and a Minimum of One Orgasm)

According to studies dating back as far as the Kinsey Reports of the 1940s and 50s, men reach their sexual peak in their late teens and early twenties. Women reach theirs in their 30s and 40s. Of course, theories of human sexuality have evolved. Between advances in hormone therapy and the growing recognition of gender and sexual fluidity, that binary accounting is no longer the only story. But, more recent science (and prevailing sentiment) still backs up the idea that men hit their peak of sexuality years earlier than women.

Some female celebrities, like Tina Turner, Joan Collins, and Madonna, for example, seem to have taken this to heart, marrying significantly younger men. However, in a recent study of marriages in 20 selected countries, the United Nations found that in every single one, women were younger than the men they married, with age gaps ranging from about a year in Ireland and Japan to more than seven years in Senegal and Mali.

Now, if we look at the numbers for sexual peak and then at the age discrepancies for married couples, we can infer that there are married women all around the world who are less than satisfied with their sex lives.

In writer/director Renée Webster’s entertaining new movie How to Please a Woman, an impressive number of these discontented dames live in Western Australia. But, led by an unlikely crusader, they learn to ask (and willingly pay) for what they need.

Gina (the luminous Sally Phillips) is a fifty-year-old woman married to an emotionally neglectful lawyer and stuck in an administrative job at a firm called, Lifetime Liquidators. On her birthday, her husband surprises her with a card filled with cash, “for something special.” Generous maybe, but impersonal. Meanwhile, her boss (who would rather ogle a younger, bustier assistant) hands her the Australian equivalent of a pink slip. “Sorry. There’s been a restructure,” he shrugs. But, apparently, the only person “restructured” is Gina.

She does receive a more thoughtful (if not entirely legal) birthday gift from the women she swims with. Tom (Alexander England, undeniably hunky but endearingly awkward) shows up and starts to undress on her doorstep. “You’ve got me for two hours,” he purrs. “And, I’ll do anything you want me to.” Gina asks him to clean her house.

In a silly coincidence that’s not too hard to overlook, Tom’s job when he’s not a sex worker, is with a struggling company called “Pleased to Move You,” on which Gina’s ex-boss has decided to foreclose. Having thoroughly enjoyed her gift (there were no additional services provided), and being unemployed herself, Gina decides to save the company, shifting its focus from moving to cleaning. She retains the rather motley crew of movers and promotes their services to her girlfriends. To her surprise, the clientele is lusting after more than mopped floors and dusting. And, if the set-up suggests a plethora of puns, Webster has it covered. The reimagined Pleased to Move You service “gets into every crevice.”

Teaching the men how to clean a house is one thing; teaching them how to please a woman is quite another. Gina enlists the aid of some of her more experienced friends and the results are both humorous and sweet. As the title suggests, the film centers very much around the concept of women’s pleasure. It is positioned simultaneously as vitally important and absolutely ordinary. There is a sense that every woman deserves it, and every woman should feel perfectly comfortable asking for it.

Alas, this message of everyday empowerment doesn’t translate well to Gina’s personal life. Although most of the film conveys a lighthearted, breezy attitude toward sex, the disappointment and shame Gina feels when she tries to reignite relations with her own husband is painful and relatable. But, fear not, having championed (and let’s face it, satisfied) the needs of so many women, Gina deserves and eventually finds her own “happy ending.” Multiple times, in fact.

Much of How to Please a Woman’s success can be credited to Phillips’s twinkling performance. Although life (in the form of age discrimination, an empty nest, and an uninterested spouse) has been disappointing lately, Gina doesn’t give up. And, she doesn’t just run a business, she becomes a trusted confidante to customers and … um … “employees” alike. She redefines her place and her value, while providing so much (and so much pleasure) to all.

The supporting cast is also terrific, especially Tom’s cleaning colleagues Ben (Josh Thomson) and Anthony (Ryan Johnson). Gina’s girlfriends/clients include an assortment of middle-aged women, eager for cleaner homes and “a minimum of one orgasm” (Roz Hammond, Caroline Brazier, Tasma Walton, Hayley McElhinney, and others). Her husband Steve (Cameron Daddo) is appropriately icy (and would be deemed “frigid,” were he a woman), and Gina finds a new supporter in Steve (Erik Thomson), the former owner of Pleased to Move You, who declines either sort of “housework” on account of his marriage but agrees to work for her behind the scenes.

How to Please a Woman isn’t an entirely new idea. In fact, you’ll recognize themes from Emma Thompson’s recent Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, as well as shades of 1997’s The Full Monty. Webster was inspired by a true story, as she explained in an interview with “Women and Hollywood.”

“The biggest challenge in making this film was getting the tone right. But in my preparation one of the hardest, but most critical, things I did was to reach out to the company who inspired the film. Here in Australia prostitution is legal — albeit with many restrictions. I read about two women who ran a company who offered sexual services for women. These women described themselves as housewives and they were so counter to my admittedly narrow understanding of the sex industry. I had all sorts of preconceived stereotypes in mind. What was really interesting, when I spoke to these women, was finding out about who their clients were. Who are these women who will pay for sex? The answers were also unexpected and some of them have inspired characters and stories in the film.”

 The characters and stories in the film strike the perfect blend of comedy and emotion. The writing is crisp and neat, and the movie, which runs nearly two hours, moves briskly. I also appreciate the idea that physical pleasure enhances other aspects of life, whether that’s exercise or building a thriving business. My only criticism is a lack of diversity that reinforces what should by now be a dated image of Australia as an English colony. More representation of the country’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities would have made the film’s progressive messages resonate even more.

After all, as Gina would say, “No one should feel invisible.”

How to Please a Woman is available to rent on Amazon.

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