Greg and Zanna aren't in the mood.
None of your business
Greg thought it would be a great idea to frame this review around our own sex life, since we're not that much younger than the sexually disatisfied women around which this film is centred. Given my parents read this column, I thought that was a very, very, very, very, very bad idea, and am wavering even now as to whether I'd like to discuss this film at all for more reasons than one.
How To Please a Woman is an Australian film starring Sally Phillips, who you'll probably recognise as Bridget Jones' potty-mouthed friend Shazzer, or humourless Finnish Prime Minister Minna Häkkinen from Veep. Phillips plays an unassuming woman in her 50s, stuck in a sex-less marriage, who loses her job and decides to start a cleaning business. The business provides men to clean women's homes, possibly shirtless. Or, they can hire the men for a much dirtier service.
It's a comedy about the sexual liberation of late-middle-aged women and, because I think that's an excellent and worthwhile premise for a film, it pains me to point out its pitfalls. To be fair, it makes sense that the script felt under-developed. The characters - of which there are arguably too many - are not fully realised because films about female sexuality are few, and it takes time to find nuance in a genre. We had to have Kidnapping by Indians before we could get No Country for Old Men.
But here's what the film does well: the centring of female sexual pleasure and female desire beyond women's 20s and 30s; middle-aged female nudity normalising average bodies (though this film is far from explicit); female empowerment through entrepreneurship; women taking control of their sex lives. So, it's a sex-positive, feminist film and I'm here for that.
Comedically however, the jokes didn't hit with me at all - or Greg, who cannot tolerate a joke that doesn't land. Several of the male characters are portrayed as sexual dumdums for laughs - one of whom is our very own Josh Thomson - but, for me, it came off as infantalising or lazy and comedically juvenile.
This film wasn't for us but I'm sure there are people who will find it enjoyable - it might make some giggle and some blush and, for some, it might even be revelatory. For those of us ensconced in sex-positive content like last week's review subject Conversations with Friends, this probably won't cut it. Which is to say, Mum and Dad, you might enjoy this film, but please don't talk to me about it. Ever.
Several times since we started writing these reviews I've wanted to write about sex but Zanna has always forbidden it, based on her probably correct assumption her parents would read it and conclude she and I are doing it, leading to an uncomfortable Tuesday night family dinner. But this week there is no way around it.
How to Please a Woman is a movie about sex but it's not a sexy movie. We couldn't possibly have done it on the night we watched it, because we were so exhausted from all the eye-rolling. At one stage, I sensed movement out of the corner of my eye and looked over to see Zanna flossing her teeth. Ten minutes later, when she was still doing it, I said, "You've been doing that for a while now," and she replied, "It's keeping me awake."
Sex is such an interesting subject, in part because it's funny. Although toilet-related issues are a close second, there's nothing people like more than a good joke about sex, in part because it's a subject we typically avoid, especially around those we're not doing it with, particularly our families. Because we've spent lifetimes skirting around the subject, it carries with it a whiff of naughtiness and taboo-breaking, and that kind of thing is always going to be funny, except in this movie, where it isn't.
Although I didn't once laugh, and often cringed, I finished the movie assuming it had been intended as comedy, and was later surprised to see it described as a drama, because it's not especially dramatic. I was never absorbed into its world, which seemed a bit ironic because as a rule I find sex very engaging.
I know better than to express my displeasure about movies while watching those movies with Zanna, because she has often told me off for it, so it was a shock and a joy to me when she rolled her eyes at me during a scene in which a woman interrupts sexual congress with her paid sex worker to deliver him a worthy but improbable lecture about how to please a woman.
This scene is an important one in the context of a movie about women reclaiming their sexual pleasure and power, which is a good and interesting thing to make a movie about, but it's a long, hard road from there to a good and interesting movie, and it's not one this movie succeeds in navigating. I would have expressed my displeasure to Zanna afterwards, but she was already asleep.
How to Please a Woman is in cinemas from Monday.