For a film promoting sex positivity, How to Please a Woman is sadly a snooze. Its heart is in the right place, but poor pacing and a lack of dramatic tension keep this would-be romp from being as bawdy and fun as it wants to be.
Films that celebrate sex and sensuality as a part of life, particularly as we age, often receive a warm reception—and with good reason. Filmmakers have a way to make us laugh at the awkwardness around sex while acknowledging that desire is healthy. One amusing moment in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, the comedy-drama currently on Hulu about a fiftysomething woman who hires a sex worker, occurs when she hears that he’s serviced someone in her eighties, making the protagonist feel less gawky by comparison.
In How to Please a Woman, writer-director Renée Webster (TV’s The Heights) wants to tap into similar humor within the working-class milieu of 1997’s The Full Monty. Yet the pieces never gel completely.
Inspired by the true story in Australia, How to Please a Woman starts promisingly enough when friends treat Gina (Sally Phillips, Blinded by the Light, the Bridget Jones films) to a male stripper for her fiftieth birthday. Tom (Alexander England, Alien: Covenant) launches into his act on her doorstep, causing the mortified Gina to whisk him inside out of the neighbors’ view.
When he says he’s there to do whatever she wants for two hours, the married Gina asks him to clean her house. Tom gamely polishes the dining table shirtless, although Gina has to show him how to take things slow and steady.
It turns out that Gina works for a liquidation business that has put a moving company, cheekily named Pleased to Move You, on the chopping block. Tom works there but took on the stripping gig to help make ends meet. Once Gina loses her job through a “restructuring” that eliminates only her, the oldest woman in the office, she has a eureka moment to save the moving business by offering cleaning services with male eye candy.
Considering the success of businesses with naked handymen, Gina’s idea doesn’t feel contrived, but the humor often does. Tom readily offers sex along with mopping the floor and dusting collectibles, and the other men in the moving company eagerly embrace this new business model. Soon Gina has more bookings than she and the guys can handle.
How to Please a Woman has some fun moments with Gina meeting potential customers in her car, where women specify the positions, amount of foreplay, and number of orgasms they want. Tom is awful at cleaning while his buddy (Ryan Johnson, Doctor Doctor) is lousy at sex, and Gina must figure out how to instruct them both.
The film does have some cute moments, such as Tom inspiring one client to be bolder in the bedroom after a heart-to-heart over cleaning the bathtub. It also deserves credit for showing women embracing their own needs and pleasure.
But while the performers seem game, with the guys in various stages of undress and Gina trying a remote-controlled vibrator, there’s not a lot of chemistry here. The creaky machinations to set up the premise take too long get rolling, and the film has too many characters for viewers to become invested in any. Gina shows some growth, but overall, the character development is shallow. Tom wants to be a good father to the baby his ex-girlfriend is expecting, but it’s unclear how this line of work helps him do that. Gina and her friends swim a lot, demonstrating their camaraderie, but the main takeaway is that her swimsuit becomes more revealing.
Mostly, How to Please a Woman lacks engrossing dramatic stakes. Gina is interested in sex more than her husband (Cameron Daddo, Home and Away), and of course, we wonder when he’ll learn what her business entails; but astute viewers will predict just how that happens.
The film also would benefit from clarifying whether such sex work in Australia is illegal. Once the police turn up, they seem more concerned with whether the business has proper permits—hardly a fulfilling climax.