How To Please A Woman is fun and confident in its message of female empowerment in the bedroom, if a bit confused tonally and slightly heavy handed.
Sex work in film can sometimes be depicted as taboo or shameful, something done as a last resort or as the only option. It can also be used as a tool for comedic purposes, as something amusing or sensational to add shock value. It’s also typically depicted as women’s work. Renée Webster’s How To Please A Woman reshapes the narrative around sex work and uses it as a means for female enjoyment, encouraging empowerment and ownership over a woman’s right to their own pleasure without the seediness or exploitation, and making sex ‘fun’ again.
Gina (Sally Phillips) isn’t having the best time. She’s recently lost her job and her marriage is unsatisfying, leaving her feeling stuck, frustrated and low in confidence. When her friends surprise her with a stripper for her birthday (Alexander England), who offers to provide any service she’d like, Gina has him clean her house. Upon telling her friends the next day, she’s surprised by just how many of them would like a similar service, and Gina senses an opportunity for a fresh start and a way to help an ailing local business. As more and more women seek the services of a man who’s as keen to scrub the skirting boards as he is for a romp between the sheets, Gina learns more about the importance of making yourself happy, in and out of the bedroom.
Webster’s film is very much for women. The writer/director wanted to make a film that was focused primarily on the female perspective and prioritised the importance of female passion, the imbalances and expectations of a woman’s ‘role’ within a heterosexual marriage and the impact this has on happiness. How To Please A Woman is really candid in its discussions about sex, be it what ‘customers’ want from each sexual encounter or the way in which Gina expects her – really enthusiastic – employees to approach each ‘transaction’. The film encourages women to be more forthcoming with what pleases them, to ask for it and ensure it’s a priority.
Reminiscent of the recent Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, it’s a film that’s sex positive, if perhaps not particularly sexy. It isn’t salacious or condescending about the sex work profession, nor does it delegitimise it. Instead, it explores its value in regards to providing women with an experience that prioritises their pleasure, gives them the confidence to ask for what they want, and take care of the housework to boot.
While the film is confident in its message, it isn’t quite so clear tonally as to what it wants to be. It isn’t an out-and-out comedy, nor does it lean particularly into its more dramatic moments, and so instead sits in limbo, being both charmingly candid and heavy handed with its ideas. The performances are good across the board, with Phillips providing a really sensitive, if not as comedy-heavy, lead performance, but the film could do with fleshing out (if you’ll pardon the pun) some of its background players. It make sense to prioritise Gina’s personal life – an alternative title could be ‘How Gina Got Her Groove Back’ –, but it would have been nice to learn a bit more about the men providing and the women utilising her business. And it does beg the question: are the women of this fictional Australia so hard done by sexually that the idea of a man cleaning the kitchen after giving you an orgasm causes near hysteria?
Joking aside, How To Please A Woman is a fun film with an empowering message, even if it does lay it on a little thick. It’s the debut film from Webster, and she clearly has a knack for shaping the stories she wants to tell, so it’ll be exciting to see what she does next. It also might just give its female audience the encouragement they need to ask for that thing they fancy in the bedroom, and maybe encourage the guys to pick up the duster once in a while too. Wins all around.
How To Please A Woman will open in theaters in Los Angeles and other cities on July 22, and on VOD on July 29, 2022.