Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sophie Hyde
Stars: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack.
Recently widowed, middle aged retired religious instruction schoolteacher Nancy (Emma Thompson) has never really experienced the joys of sex. She seems unsatisfied by her life. Her husband, as she puts it, “would roll on top, do the business, roll off, put his pyjamas back on and go to sleep”. To experience pleasure, she hires young good looking and affable 20something sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack, from Peaky Blinders, etc). Through a series of meetings in the same hotel room, Leo and Nancy talk about their lives, their disappointments and regrets. He introduces her to some various sexual positions. These intimate revelations and encounters reveal much about them and shows that they both have lots of unresolved family issues, and eventually these meetings change both their lives.
Nancy opens up to Leo, nervously revealing personal information. But Leo is much more guarded and deftly avoids answering her more probing questions. “I am whoever you want me to be,” he offers nonchalantly. But during their third meeting, something happens that drastically changes the dynamic of their relationship.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is the third feature from director Sophie Hyde, and like her previous two films it centres around a strong female character coming to terms with her sexuality and her body. This is the first feature script written by British comedian Katy Brand, best known for her television work, and is empathetic and non-judgemental towards both characters. There is also a great deal of humour throughout.
There is a wonderful and palpable chemistry between the two stars, and their characters are fully fleshed out and given life by the performers. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande offers both actors plenty of opportunities to explore their characters. As usual, Thompson is excellent and conveys Nancy’s insecurities, her doubts, her nervousness, her neurotic hang-ups (she has never experienced an orgasm), and her vulnerability, but she slowly comes to embrace her own sexuality. She gradually finds a sense of empowerment through her experiences. This is a brave, fearless and revealing performance for Thompson, a risky role for someone of her stature, as her Nancy is well and truly outside of her comfort zone. McCormack matches her all the way, bringing an affable, disarming and easy-going charm and confidence to his performance that should establish him as a major star.
Shot during the COVID pandemic, the film is essentially a two-handed drama that plays out in the confines of the single setting – a hotel bedroom – that gives the material a sense of intimacy, and it relies on the performances of the cast to sustain the audience’s attention for the duration. One can almost imagine this being turned into a stage play. The production design for the hotel suite from Miren Maranon is superb. The film has been nicely shot by Hyde’s regular cinematographer Bryan Mason (Animals, etc), who also edited the film. The film is heavily dialogue driven – the dialogue is at times a bit risque and frank – but the nudity and sex scenes are tastefully handled.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is on the surface a sex comedy, but it is also an intelligent, insightful, superbly written character study and a thought-provoking film, and something of a genuine crowd-pleaser. The film will also remind many of The Sessions, the superb and engaging 2012 drama that starred Helen Hunt as a sex therapist who works with John Hawkes’ polio victim.
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