Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack shine in this insightful pas de deux about the joys and the shame of sex.
A refreshing, intelligent bedroom drama, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a quietly hilarious study on emotional and sexual intimacy carried by two powerhouse performances. The second feature from director Sophie Hyde zeroes in on pleasure-starved, retired teacher Nancy Stokes, a role that screenwriter Katy Brand penned specifically for Emma Thompson.
Nancy has never had an orgasm, nor does she know what good sex is supposed to feel like. After decades of suppressing her needs and settling for uncaring, one-sided missionary action with her husband, the recently widowed lead is hungry for more. Enter the titular hero, male escort Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), whom Nancy has hired to get the deed over and done with.
Stuck in her bigoted-adjacent views, Nancy expected an underprivileged, young man looking for easy money. Leo surprises her with his dapper, professional and self-aware demeanour, paired with a hedonistic approach to life and people. The sex worker is intrigued and amused by this methodical woman, who, on her part, is grappling with sex shame and a deep uncomfortableness towards her own, ageing body.
Shot during the pandemic, the film takes advantage of a self-contained space — an unremarkably standard hotel room — to bring Nancy and Leo’s fragility to the fore. The room is but a stage where the two leads suss each other out and bare all under Hyde’s naturalistic, empathetic direction.
As the power dynamics between them continuously shift, the story thrives in a well-orchestrated balance of comedy and drama that’s as smooth as the film’s needle drops. Credits go to the actors’ intoxicating chemistry, with the enthralling McCormack matching acting royalty Thompson.
The duo elevates an already excellent script in four chapters in which Nancy and Leo get to know each other and, most crucially, themselves. Nancy, particularly, has to unlearn all she has taught others during her career as a religious education teacher, and not without some resistance.
The laugh-out-loud film doesn’t shy away from touching upon topics that are normally deemed difficult, finding unexpected comfort in the suspended reality offered by a conversation with a stranger on neutral grounds.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is an honest, positive reflection on sex work that rejects any stigma or conventions, but it also gives a provocative outlook on motherhood and female pleasure. Similarly to The Lost Daughter, this film doesn’t tap into the assumption that motherhood equals unconditional, unwavering love and a willing self-subjugation. Nancy’s unusual friendship with Leo brings out an almost maternal tenderness, providing her with the chance to explore her complicated feelings towards her two children.
Brand never attempts to box Nancy and Leo’s relationship into what would inevitably be an ill-placed romance, not caving to the pressures of a traditional happy ending. Not that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande doesn’t have its very own life-affirming epilogue.
Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of this Sundance gem is that it fosters acceptance and body neutrality, as opposed to the sometimes toxic enforcement of body positivity. Seeing Nancy reclaiming her body with no judgement is revolutionary.
Published 25 Jan 2022
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