Review: ‘How to Please a Woman,’ starring Sally Phillips, Erik Thomson, Cameron Daddo and Tasma Walton

July 31, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hayley McElhinney, Tasma Walton, Sally Phillips and Caroline Brazier in “How to Please a Woman” (Photo by David Dare Parker/Brainstorm Media)

“How to Please a Woman”

Directed by Renée Webster

Culture Representation: Taking place in Fremantle, Australia, the comedy/drama film “How to Please a Woman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few biracial people and one person of Tongan heritage) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After getting laid off from her administrative assistant job at a liquidation company, a middle-aged woman in a passionless marriage decides to start a business that offers men giving housecleaning and sex services for women. 

Culture Audience: “How to Please a Woman” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies that celebrate women over the age of 40 seeking happiness and sexual pleasure, but viewers should be prepared for some clichéd and not-very-realistic handling of the subject matter.

Ryan Johnson, Josh Thomson, Alex England and Erik Thomson in “How to Please a Woman” (Photo by David Dare Parker/Brainstorm Media)

Despite some trite sitcom elements and occasionally uneven pacing, “How to Please a Woman” is an overall entertaining comedy/drama about a middle-aged woman who reinvents herself by starting a business that offers men giving housecleaning and sexual services for women. Written and directed by Renée Webster, “How to Please a Woman” is less about the financial aspects of the business and more about how this business is the catalyst for personal fulfilment for many characters in the movie. Sometimes the movie clumsily handles its themes and messages about female empowerment, while other times the movie handles these themes and messages with grace, wit and charm.

“How to Please a Woman” is the type of movie that doesn’t offer too many surprises. The movie’s protagonist is a stereotypical middle-aged woman who is sexually repressed. Based on the movie’s title, you don’t have to know anything about the plot to know that this protagonist is going to be the one who goes through the personal transformation that is at the heart of the story.

“How to Please a Woman” might get some comparisons to “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (which is an overall better movie), because both comedy/drama movies (which were released within weeks of each other in 2022) have a plot about a sexually repressed, middle-aged woman getting involved with the sex industry and finding personal satisfaction from it. Both movies have sex-positive messages that women should be more accepting of their individual sexualities and their natural bodies. However, that’s where the similarities end for both movies.

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” (which takes place in England) focuses only on two people: a retired widow and the gigolo she hires. “How to Please a Woman” (which takes place in Fremantle in Western Australia) has a much larger cast and is about an unhappily married woman who starts a combination housecleaning/sex business after she’s laid off from her job. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” has entirely realistic conversations and scenarios. “How to Please a Woman” has some overly contrived scenarios that lower the quality of the movie. The sitcom-like music in “How to Please a Woman” doesn’t help.

In “How to Please a Woman,” Gina Henderson (played by Sally Phillips) is a British immigrant in her 50s who is stuck in a stale marriage to her attorney husband Adrian Henderson (played by Cameron Daddo), who has lost interest in having sex with her. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that Gina and Adrian haven’t had sex with each other for the past two years. Neither of them is unfaithful to each other, and the relationship is not abusive. However, Adrian treats Gina more like a roommate than like a wife.

Gina and Adrian have a college-age daughter named Chloe (played by Asher Yasbincek), who is attending a university in London. She’s seen briefly near the beginning of the movie in a scene where Chloe does a video chat with Gina to wish Gina a happy birthday. However, Chloe doesn’t talk to Gina for as long as Gina would like. Gina seems disappointed about this short conversation, as if it’s hard for her to accept that Chloe is an adult who has her own life.

Gina feels underappreciated not only by her family but also at her job. In the beginning of the movie, she’s an overworked administrative assistant at a company called Lifetime Liquidators, which decides if failing businesses are worth saving or not. She thinks being overworked means that she’s indispensable at this company. Gina is in for a rude awakening when her obnoxious boss Brett (played by Oliver Wenn) fires her due to “company restructuring.”

Gina is the only one let go from the company, and she finds out why: Brett has hired a young, buxom blonde named Alice (played by Emily Rose Brennan) to replace Gina. When Alice innocently asks Gina if she needs any help after Gina gets fired, a normally mild-mannered Gina snaps at Alice: “You can take your double D cups and piss off to your own department!” (Gina gets a chance to redeem herself over this rudeness later in the movie.)

As an attorney, Adrian thinks that Gina should sue Lifetime Liquidators for age discrimination, but Gina doesn’t think it’s worth it. Instead, she decides to help the last company that she was in contact with before she lost her job. It’s a moving company named Pleased to Move You, a small business that is very close to shuttering due to significant financial losses and heavy financial debt. In fact, Brett has already decided that Pleased to Move You should be shut down.

Gina has a close-knit group of friends, who often go swimming with her. They all go to a local gym, where the gym’s locker room has become the center of Gina’s social life. Her three closest pals are no-nonsense bachelorette Sandra (played by Caroline Brazier), sexually fluid and commitment-phobic bachelorette Hayley (played by Hayley McElhinney), and married corporate attorney Monique (played by Tasma Walton), who’s also stuck in a marriage rut.

As a surprise birthday gift, Gina gets a performance from a male stripper named Tom (played by Alexander England), who is in his 20s but who has the maturity and intelligence of someone in their late teens. Gina doesn’t want Tom to strip naked and asks him to clean her house instead with his shirt off. And what a coincidence: Tom just happens to be one of the Pleased to Move You employees. (He says he’s a stripper as an occasional side job.)

This experience leads to Gina coming up with the idea to have Pleased to Move You “diversify” its business by having the company’s all-male employees do housecleaning services while shirtless. Not surprisingly, bachelor Tom (who’s obviously comfortable with getting naked in front of strangers) is the most enthusiastic about the idea of being a sexy housecleaner. The company’s married boss and the other employees (who are bachelors) aren’t so sure, but Gina convinces them that they can save the company from going out of business by making money this way.

In addition to Tom, the other employees of Pleased to Move You are goofy Ben (played by Josh Thomson) and earnest Anthony (played by Ryan Johnson), who is later described as “well-endowed,” which leads to some comedic scenes later in the movie. The company owner/boss is Steve (played by Erik Thomson, no relation to Josh Thomson), whose marital situation affects things that happen later in the story. Instead of doing the “out in the field” work for this housecleaning business, Steve offers to maintain the website and do other information technology work. Gina is hired to be the manager of sales, marketing and accounting for this business.

The first place that Gina goes to advertise the business is the ladies’ locker room, where she puts flyers on the wall. An acquaintance named Claudia (played by Roz Hammond) is the first customer. Tom is the one who goes to Claudia’s home to provide the housecleaning services. But the sight of shirtless Tom is enough for Claudia to ask Tom to have sex with her. He willingly obliges.

Gina gave Tom a car ride to this job, so she waits outside for Tom until he finishes the work. When Gina peeks in a window of the house to see what’s taking him so long, she sees Claudia wearing nothing but a robe, while Tom is naked and getting a drink from the kitchen refrigerator. Tom sees Gina and smiles at her, as if to say, “Hey, if this is part of the job, I like it.”

However, Gina is mortified and annoyed. When Tom comes out of the house, she sternly tells Tom: “That is not happening ever again.” But there would be no “How to Please a Woman” movie if that turned out to be true.

The next time that Claudia is in the locker room with Gina and her friends, she raves about the service that she got. Gina tells Claudia that the sex with Tom was a “mistake” that “is not ever going to happen again.” But when Gina quickly finds out that she can’t make any sales just by offering housecleaning services by shirtless men, she agrees to offer sex from these employees as part of the housecleaning deal. And that’s when Gina is inundated with bookings and requests for these services.

“How to Please a Woman” gets heavy-handed in how easily everything falls into place for this business. The men are quickly convinced to do this work, although there is some realism when Anthony and Ben are worried about how their bodies look, compared to the more physically fit Tom. Whatever their body insecurities are, the movie makes a point that the men get over these insecurities a lot quicker than how the women feel insecure about their own bodies.

Another contrivance of “How to Please a Woman” is that, with one exception, all of the interested clients are women who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. It’s this movie’s over-the-top way of making it look like women in this age range are more in need for this service, when in actuality there would be more diversity in the adult customers’ age ranges. The locker room scenes in “How to Please a Woman” have mostly women in their 40s to 60s in the room, which also looks unrealistic for a setting that’s supposed to be open to women of all ages.

One of the movie’s annoying aspects is that it makes most of the women customers look insecure, desperate and lonely. It’s a somewhat off-putting depiction because it plays into negative and often untrue stereotypes that women over the age of 40 have less fulfilling sex lives than younger women. However, this negative stereotyping is somewhat balanced out by showing some women customers who are unapologetic and confident about wanting this service. Gina encourages the customers to not be afraid to ask for what they want. It’s advice that she finds harder to apply to her own life.

“How to Please a Woman” doesn’t exclusively address heterosexual needs. The movie includes a queer subplot about a bi-curious woman named Fiona (played by Catherine Moore), who is one of the ladies from the locker room. Fiona asks Gina if she’s open to hiring women to be housecleaners, because Fiona is curious about having sexual experiences with other women. Perhaps as a way to avoid criticism for exploiting women in sex work, Gina doesn’t hire Fiona to do this work, but the movie resolves Fiona’s bi-curious issue in another way.

The queer perspective is only addressed when it comes to women. The movie has absolutely nothing that talks about men giving service to men in this business. There’s a half-hearted attempt at this scenario, but it’s played for laughs, when Ben goes on a service call that he gets from a man, who seems to want to have a threesome with Ben and the man’s wife. It all turns out to be a big misunderstanding, which is another example of a sitcom-like setup that cheapens the movie’s messages.

The comedy in “How to Please a Woman” is definitely for adults (and there are a few brief flashes of female and male nudity), but many of the scenes play out like something in a movie for teenagers. Sandra gives a remote-controlled vibrator to Gina as a gift to cheer her up, and Gina acts like she’s never seen a vibrator before. It’s a bit of stretch to expect audiences to believe that someone of Gina’s age and in her circumstances is that sheltered. Later, this vibrator is used in one of the movie’s funniest scenes.

“How to Please a Woman” gives a little too much screen time to showing Tom’s personal life. He’s a man-child who has trouble keeping a job, and his most recent romantic relationship failed because of his immaturity. His ex-girlfriend Mandy (played by Takia Morrison) is pregnant with their child (which they know will be a boy), and she has already moved on to a new boyfriend named Gary (played by Ben Mortley). These scenes of Tom visiting pregnant Mandy (who never looks happy to see him) have no real purpose in the movie except to show that Tom wants to prove to her that he’s trying to be a responsible adult.

When Tom offers to give money to Mandy for their unborn child, and he offers to clean her house, she rejects this offer, and Tom looks emotionally hurt. Later, Tom tells one of his sex clients that when he and Mandy were together, he always had to initiate sex, but he prefers it when a woman makes the first move with him in having sex. It might be the movie’s way of trying to explain why Tom likes being hired as a sex worker, but it comes across as unnecessary and awkward.

As for the legalities of what Gina is doing with this business and how she wants to keep the business a secret from her husband Adrian, “How to Please a Woman” addresses those issues in some ways that are realistic and other ways that are not. In Western Australia, certain aspects of the sex business are illegal (such as operating a brothel or being a pimp/madam), while other aspects are legal (such as being an independent sex worker), and a gray area is sex therapy that can be considered legal if it’s a licensed business. Viewers will have to keep in mind that this movie is set in Australia, where the laws about sex work might differ from other countries. Still, the legal issues about what Gina is doing are a little too glossed over in the movie.

Even with its flaws, “How to Please a Woman” is fairly straightforward in showing its intentions and tone, so viewers know within the first 15 minutes what type of movie they will be watching. The only symbolism that the movie has is Gina’s love of swimming in the ocean, which is used as a symbol for how she wants to feel freedom or at peace with herself. The last third of “How to Please a Woman” has a few twists that aren’t too surprising because of all the clues that these things were going to happen.

The movie could have done a better job of developing some of the supporting characters. Most people watching “How to Please a Woman” will have a hard time remembering the names of Gina’s friends. Ben is treated as a “clown” and not as a desirable sex worker. (He has no sex scenes in the movie.) The love lives of Anthony and Ben are not shown or mentioned, so it’s unknown how their involvement in this semi-secretive sex work is affecting their personal lives.

Gina and her friend Monique are the only female characters whose jobs/sources of income are shown or mentioned. Viewers can only speculate what Gina and her friends talk about besides sex, relationships and her new business venture, because that’s basically all they talk about in this movie. The rest of the female characters who know about this housecleaning/sex business are only shown in the context of their interest in this business or their sexual needs, instead of giving them more well-rounded personalities.

All of the movie’s production aspects and performances are perfectly fine for how this movie was written, but nothing about “How to Please a Woman” is outstanding or award-worthy. As a statement about female empowerment and female sexual confidence, “How to Please a Woman” veers on the breezy and lightweight side. However, the movie can still resonate with viewers who want to see an entertaining story about the pursuit of pleasure and happiness.

Brainstorm Media released “How to Please a Woman” in select U.S. cinemas on July 22, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on July 29, 2022. “How to Please a Woman” was released in Australia on May 19, 2022.

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