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10 mins ago - How to Please a Woman makes its business about pleasure but, as you’ll discover, sex is not the only thing on the agenda.
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Though its title may suggest raunchy, saucy things, Renée Webster‘s debut feature film is actually more a dramedy focusing on what happens when the spark in a marriage isn’t just gone but no one goes looking for it, and how one woman’s foray into business sparks an awakening for those around her.
Sally Phillips plays middle-aged Gina who feels she’s become invisible to everyone, including—if not especially—her husband. We follow her on this journey of self-discovery as an entrepreneur and businesswoman as well as a sexual being with acknowledged and met desires.
Most people will remember Phillips from Bridget Jones’s Diary but I will always remember her as Tilly in BBC’s Miranda (I still use the term “bear with” when on the phone and someone’s trying to talk to me). She makes such an understated impact as a leading lady here, from her comedic timing to her sexual frustration and personal struggles, Phillips’ portrayal of a woman trying to be seen and heard is subtle but effective.
At work, she’s facing redundancy, at home she’s feeling redundant in her husband Adrian’s (Cameron Daddo) life too as it seems he’s all but lost interest in sex and conversation.
Upon getting the chop from her job, one thing leads to another and she sets up a house cleaning service, staffed by good-looking male cleaners, with benefits. Although to be fair the benefits part isn’t exactly front of mind for our leading lady—however, when you have some unruly mover types with “four packs” for days, jackhammers, or awkward sexual appeal, things get a bit unpredictable for her.
Which, in the long run, is more of a blessing than a curse and she winds up learning just as much about herself as she does about her new employees and her own circle of friends. Gina thinks she’s turned a struggling removers company into a cleaning firm, only to discover that one of her staff—former stripper Tom (Alexander England)—has also been providing sex along with the cleaning.
Despite the front and centring of eroticism, the sex scenes are pretty tame, unsurprising given the film’s M rating. The film isn’t laugh-out-loud, but it is funny in its own way. There are more than a few scenes that make you snicker or chuckle a bit.
As often happens with an Aussie flick you play “spot the Kiwi” and in this case, it’s Tongan-Kiwi comedian Josh Thomson, who plays one of Gina’s employees and arguably has one of the best lines in the whole film—which occurs while everyone’s standing around the office, trying to come up with a respectable motto for the new business website. His suggestion: “Rock-solid best-ever root you’ll get all year”.
The film may be set in Fremantle and peopled with familiar Australian faces, but it’s imbued with the same spirit as Calendar Girls, The Full Monty and all the other British comedies known for their cosy good humour, modest intentions and likeable characters down on their luck.
It’s all about sex and displays no difficulty in saying so, but as its M rating indicates, it crosses no boundaries and tackles no taboos. At 50, Phillips’ Gina is mired in all the frustrations of middle age.
At work, she’s facing redundancy and at home, she’s confronting the same fate. Her husband, Adrian (Cameron Daddo), has lost interest in sex and conversation. Her only break from all-embracing boredom lies in the ocean swim she takes early every morning with her women friends.
Then a male stripper (Alexander England) comes to call. He’s her birthday present from her fellow swimmers, but Gina isn’t yet ready to emerge from her domestic cocoon. As he rips off his shirt, launches into his routine and tells her that he’ll do anything she wants, she primly tells him she’d like him to clean her house.
But when she discovers he has a day job with a small removals firm that is about to go broke, her entrepreneurial instincts take over.
Webster says the idea for the film sprang from an Australian company she read about that supplies sexual services for women only. Inspired, she became interested in a story about sexual satisfaction and how to get it, told from the assorted points of view of a group of women who have been missing it for some time.
To her great credit, she wastes no time in arriving at the crux of the matter. Quickly shaking off her inhibitions, Gina approaches Steve (Erik Thomson), the boss of the ailing removals firm, with a novel proposal. She suggests his staff of hunky young men might like to follow their stripper friend’s lead and hire themselves out to clean houses as well as providing other services their clients may desire.
And when the concept elicits a favourable, if slightly bemused, reception, she lays down the specifics. Clearly, the cleaning must be effective, and if sex is required, a minimum of one orgasm must be achieved.
Gina’s friends (Caroline Brazier, Tasma Walton and Hayley McElhinney), a fun-loving band of extroverts, are the first customers and their resulting adventures are carried off with a playfulness that successfully steers clear of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink element. Webster’s comic timing, however, is less assured and her script isn’t exactly crackling with witticisms, but its candour is engaging and so, too, is the camaraderie between Gina and her pals, male and female.
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s a fun first trailer for Sally Phillips (Bridget Jones’s Diary) comedy-drama How To Please A Woman, which Beta is selling at the virtual AFM.
In the Australian indie pic, Phillips plays a woman in middle age who feels she has become “invisible to everyone.” The film follows her as she sets up a house cleaning service, staffed by good-looking male cleaners, with ‘benefits’. The feel-good movie looks to be full of winning charm and humour. Keep an eye on remake interest down the line (those rights are not controlled by Beta).
Other cast include Erik Thomson, Alexander England, and Caroline Brazier. Director and writer is Renée Webster. Pic is currently in post-production.
Brit actress and comedian Phillips is well known for UK shows such as Smack The Pony, which she co-created and co-wrote. She has starred in all three Bridget Jones movies and appears in Veep.
Beta’s slate also includes Manetti brothers movie Diabolik, Swedish feel-good comedy Tuesday Club, starring Marie Richardson and Peter Stormare, and German midlife-crisis comedy It’s Just A Phase, Honey from Oscar-winner Florian Gallenberger (John Rabe).
Walton's character appears regularly as part of Gina's morning ritual; chatting to her girlfriends in the changing rooms after an early ocean swim.
It's in these moments that the film's other major theme - female friendship - shines.
"I really, really cherished those scenes in the change room, for example, because it was a group of women talking honestly with each other for no other reason or agenda except that they were friends and they were having fun."
As for audiences, Walton said she hopes they leave cinemas "with a big smile on their face".
"A funny and endearing experience in a cinema is so valuable, so effective. And really, it's just an understanding and acknowledgement that women of all ages you know, have full and rich lives and ought to be celebrated," she said.
"What can often happen is that stereotype of an older person who's angry and resentful, we have challenges we are facing, societal pressures that can make us feel not seen and not heard. That's what's lovely about this film, it's a group of women who are going 'we've got life experience, we have our flaws, we have our needs and desires as human beings, and we're going to celebrate that and have some fun with it'."
How To Please A Woman is in cinemas across Australia from May 19.
Feature image: Madman Entertainment.
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Has somebody made another movie about wives and mothers left at home to clean house, launder dirty linen and all the other domestic routines. A well-worn theme. No novelty about that. Dullsville. I expected it could not possibly be women’s sexual rights at every appropriate occasion.
I wuz wrong, big time! And I am very happy to admit that. Ms Webster’s movie doesn’t fall into any single category of fiction feature. It covers an agreeably wide canvas, of which the dominant element is good, clean, dirty, satisfying orgasms, however induced, in women. With not a pubic area of either sex and only one pair of bare female nipples in view during its 107 minutes.
Gina’s (Sally Phillips) husband Adrian (Cameron Daddo) has lost interest in her sexually. Her marriage is economically comfortable but otherwise dull. She has just been made redundant at an almost insolvent removalist firm.
On the morning of her birthday, a package arrives. The delivery man is what any well-raised, 50-year-old housewife might be glad to get. The girls at the swimming club have sent her a house cleaner. Played by Alexander England, Tom is a hunk, ready, willing and able to clean house and more.
Before long, after a series of credible business events, Sally is beginning to take control of her life for the first time. She’s about to take over the company and its general manager Steve (Erik Thompson).
“To Please A Woman” is a mild-flavoured polemic on women’s right to enjoy what, at the same time and in the same way, their partners – of either or both genders – are enjoying – but too often are not getting.
It doesn’t take sides. What it says and how it says it is agreeably sensible and sensitively agreeable, validly and correctly delivering information about the physical and emotional elements of sex and laying it on with not too heavy a hand.
Made in Perth, its entertainment and didactic values come wrapped in respect and dramatic warmth. Since its first release here on May 19, its Australian maker has sold screening rights in the US, UK, Canada, Poland, former Yugoslavia, Czech Republic and Hungary. Where next, what next, I wonder?
The girls go swimming together every week, and there’s much ribald fun at the idea of giving Gina the services of stripper Tom, who Gina prefers to use as a house cleaner.
In fact, Tom was planning to take it to the next level with Gina, so to speak, until she diverted him towards housework.
Gina’s home life with hubby Adrian is no great shakes. And nor is that of all the swimming buddies. They want something more.
You mean house-cleaning? Well yes, if this was a frothy Seventies sitcom. But these days everyone’s taking it to the next level. Oo-er!
So Gina chases up Tom the Stripper, and finds him working at a local moving company called, with magnificent obviousness, Pleased to Move You. But it seems they’re going out of business.
So, Gina offers them a spicy upgrade of their services. If you catch my drift.
Actually, as a mere male and therefore outside the Girl’s Night Out market, my attention also kept drifting throughout How to Please a Woman.
I wondered how this might have played out if the genders were reversed. You know, How to Please a Man, with female strippers and middle-aged male clients?
Don’t go there, is possibly the best advice here.
Anyway, the three newly-assigned sex workers-cum-cleaners are sent to work. There’s a fourth mover, the middle-aged but charming Steve, who doesn’t feel he’s up for the new job description.
For some reason, this seems to be a plus with Gina rather than a liability.
Meanwhile her swimming friends leap at the new service offered by Pleased to Move You. Taking a cue from Sigmund Freud’s famous conundrum “What do women want?” these women are more than willing to tell all.
And not only about activity in the boudoir. It seems that an almost as important part of How to Please a Woman is learning to clean the house properly.
For audiences frustrated at the lack of films featuring efficient, semi-naked vacuum cleaning, this film – written and directed by Renee Webster – fills that gap.
As far as the other glaring gap – appealing, halfway believable characters – How to Please a Woman finds itself once again relying on rather better performances than the script deserves.
Notably Phillips, who’s spent years playing characters like Gina on TV and in films like Bridget Jones, and knows how to add dimension to a character that otherwise doesn’t have any.
What the target audience wants, of course, is for Gina to get rid of her boring husband - I mean, Adrian, I ask you! - and stoke a fire under Steve the reluctant mover.
Since Steve is played by the always charming Erik Thomson, who can best be described as an Antipodean Colin Firth, there’s no real need to build his character up much more than that.
Interestingly for a film that proudly claims to take the stigma out of the sex industry, neither Gina nor Steve avail themselves of its services.
They prefer instead that least daring and most traditional of conclusions, the chaste happy ending. Jane Austen would approve, I’m sure.