Tuesday, 7 June 2022

How To Please A Woman (2022) - Movie Review

I don’t have the best history with ‘chick flicks’. Not just with the ones I have reviewed on here, but with my general attitude towards them as well. In the past, I’ve lambasted quite a few features that fall into this heading for being empty wish fulfilment fantasies, which I perceived as talking down to their intended female audience with how contrived and basically gutless they came across. But then look at how many power fantasies I’ve reviewed that cater to the more masculine set, which arguably suffer from the exact same deficiencies, where I don’t tend to make such judgement calls. Or, at least, don’t make them nearly as often. If I had to guess, I think one last sliver of influence from the Nostalgia Critic is hanging on for dear life, as I initially got quite a bit of my perspective on the sub-genre from him, and… well, I’ve been doing this critical gig for many years now; what is a teacher if not someone to grow beyond?

I’m bringing this up both because this is something I’ve been wrestling with for a while, especially when looking at films like this, and because what appeals to women and the futility in making any blanket statements on the matter are some of the central themes of this film in particular. It’s an Aussie romantic comedy with a very Aussie approach to all things sex, where the frankness and lack of flinching about what gets discussed makes for quite refreshing material.

Sally Phillips stars as Gina, a career woman who, after realising that watching a birthday stripper (Alexander England) clean her house is way sexier than the stripping itself, decides to start a business that hires out men to clean women’s houses. It eventually mushrooms into much saucier… services, let’s say, and Gina soon finds herself as reluctant madame for her own small stable of escorts. The way Renée Webster’s script broaches the notion of pleasure is about as sex-positive as it gets, where sex work is portrayed as a matter-of-fact aspect of society and a necessary one at that. It lines up with sentiments I’ve covered before like with Magic Mike XXL, where the agency of the women involved is at the forefront, and the desires that are being catered for are recognised as natural and often the result of someone closer to home not doing their job properly. It really isn’t that different from hiring someone to clean the house.

It helps that the film craft actively supports the feminine gaze. Webster and cinematographer Ben Nott (who’s done a lot of work with the Spierig brothers) apply an equally matter-of-fact capturing of the female body, avoiding the issue where… well, there’s a certain way that men tend to photograph women in films, of which this is… mostly innocent of. But even the one time it engages with that male gaze, it’s directly tied to the male gaze of a character on-screen, drawing attention to the difference in camera perspective for just that moment.

And along with being quite genuine in its feminist aesthetics (and also quite funny, even when it has to play to the clichés of the genre), it’s also actually sexy. Nott and editor Merlin Eden take their time in feeling around these different scenes, a lot of which are presented as-is without soundtrack, and just letting the audience breathe in the raging sexual tension between the characters… even though it’s remarkably non-explicit. They take things like drinking tequila, using an exercise bike, and yes, cleaning the house, and present them in a way where, even if it doesn’t apply to you specifically, you at least get why someone out there would be turned on by it. Even the one actual sex scene shown is probably the least sexy moment in the entire film.

One of the things that often gets left behind when it comes to discussing sex is how the notion of ‘kink’ isn’t just to do with whips, chains, leather, and occasional hideous misrepresentations in popular media. It can also involve quite mundane things. For a heterosexual man, seeing a woman naked would be their kink; it’s just such a common one that it doesn’t seem ‘worth’ bringing up in relation to the bigger picture. But it’s all valid and worth embracing for those who enjoy them. It’s just a matter of knowing what you want and going after it.

That is ultimately the main message of the film: That women should have the courage and freedom to ask for their pleasures, and to get them in return, regardless of their societal level, age, background, etc. It’s an admittedly familiar message for a romantic comedy, but the presentation and genuine understanding of the subject matter makes it into a film that champions sexual liberation and it most assuredly knows what it’s talking about. The characters themselves may seem a bit flat, as they mainly exist as vehicles for the many different statements regarding sexual fulfilment and just fulfilment in life generally, but even in that mode, everyone here does well.

Yes, it’s tailored towards a very specific subset of the audience (and one that usually gets left out of these kinds of cheeky cinematic sexcapades, so bonus points for inclusivity), but even as a viewer well outside of that demographic, there’s a lot here that merits engagement and I quite enjoyed it. It’s another example of Aussie cinema doing what Aussie cinema does best: Examining cultural norms and pulling no punches on what it finds.

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