I was optimistic for How to Please a Woman but, despite it being a pleasant piece of entertainment with some critical issues explored in a humorous way, it didn’t reach the high point I had hoped. The movie tells the story of a middle-aged woman, Ruth (played by an excellent Samantha Bee), who starts a house-cleaning business with her friends – with some additional benefits. The business quickly becomes successful and, as the only woman in the company, Ruth starts to feel the pressure to live up to the male employees’ expectations of her sexuality. This leads to some very humorous and uncomfortable situations, as Ruth tries to come to terms with her own sexuality.
The cast clearly look like they are having fun with the material, and there are some laugh-out-loud moments. However, the movie doesn’t quite reach the heights it promises, feeling a little safe in its approach. The potential for a more subversive comedy is clear, but it’s not taken.
There are some intriguing characters, and the male characters are given some depth beyond the usual “bumbling idiots” stereotype. The portrayal of women is refreshingly frank and rather than seeing photoshopped beauty as the movie’s ideal, we see real women of all shapes and sizes. In a movie landscape that still largely relies on the male gaze, this is most welcome.
There is a considerable amount of sex in the movie (it’s a major theme), but the sex here is not the usual gratuitous movie sex; it’s used to further the story and explore the characters. This is one of the movie’s strengths, along with its frank discussion of female sexuality.
Renée Webster, who directs How to Please a Woman, has said that she wanted to make a movie that “portrayed women as they really are”. She’s certainly achieved that, and it’s an admirable goal. However, the movie doesn’t quite live up to its full potential. It’s still an enjoyable watch, but it could have been so much more.
(In cinemas in Australia – check your movie guide for your local show times. It will also be released on some streaming services on July 22. So, keep your ear to the ground!)