A film review by Craig J. Koban July 13, 2022

Rank: #9

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE jjj
 

2022, R, 97 mins.

Emma Thompson as Nancy Stokes  /  Daryl McCormack as Leo Grande

Directed by Sophie Hyde  /  Written by  Katy Brand

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE is a sex movie.  

Characters talk about sex.  They discuss sexual positions.  They chat about foreplay leading into sex.  They dissect what sex means to various age groups.  They ruminate on the psychological baggage that sex can bring and how to break down barriers that impede pleasure.  Oh...and these characters - two of them, anyway - have sex in the film too.  Multiple times.  And there's copious amounts of nudity here of the male and female variety.  Annnnnnd full frontal for both as well. 

Here's the thing, though: For a film that has sex on the brain and on display, GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE is not a dirty or sensationalistic one that's aiming for cheap titillation.  The core premise of this dramedy (releasing exclusively to HULU in the U.S. and Amazon Prime in Canada) would say otherwise (a middle aged and chronically uptight retired school teacher that's had a rather joyless sex life decides to hire a hunky and younger male sex worker to please her).  Under less sensitive hands, this film would have attained the level of a lurid and, yes, smutty sitcom.  

But director Sophie Hyde and screenwriter Katy Brand have far more creative tricks up their sleeves here to avoid having their their film wallow in vulgar excess.  It's more of a surprisingly tender minded and thoughtful examination of aging, older women experiencing a sexual re-awakening, human frailties and forming connections with people from other walks of life.  More importantly, it's about a vulnerable woman that's dealing with massive feelings of low self-worth that's yearning to be wanted and desired at a point in one's life when most adults aren't thinking of sex all that much.  There are so very few films these days that explore sexuality as frankly, intelligently and sometimes as amusingly as GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE, and it's an especially rare thing to see one largely told from an older female prerogative. 

This is also one of those minimalist COVID-19 productions that obviously had to find inspiration via limited settings and a small number of actors.  For the most part, the entirety of GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE transpires in a hotel room and between two characters, and it's a testament to Hyde's direction and Brand's scripting that things don't get monotonous to early on.  Nancy (a never been better Emma Thompson...and that's saying much) has been widowed for a few years and is a longtime retired schoolteacher that - by her own admission - has only had one sexual partner in her entire life.  With her husband now deceased, she desires to move on and sexually experiment (sadly, he was no Casanova in the sack and left her largely unsatisfied).  Her dearly departed spouse was the least adventurous and experimental sexual partner one could think of (he apparently refused to perform oral or anal sex on her and - gasp! - never made her orgasm...like...ever).  Although Nancy is an attractive women for her age, she nevertheless is embarrassed by the way her body has deteriorated with the passage of time, which makes her uncomfortable with the prospect of searching for men that will find her desirable.  So, feeling that she has no other choice, Nancy decides to hire a sex worker and meet in a hotel room for the type of - ahem! - sexual education that most religious educators like her have never dreamed of in the past. 

 

 

In steps Leo (Daryl McCormack, thanklessly holding his own against his more seasoned co-star), who's a ridiculously handsome and much younger high costing prostitute that agrees to meet up with Nancy in a hotel of her choosing.  Leo is so good at his job that he's seriously in demand and fetches remarkably high fees (Nancy isn't filthy rich and realizes that she doesn't have endless hook-up options with this man).  Leo is a remarkably well read, spoken, and polite man, which initially surprises the former school teacher in Nancy, and when she asks him about how he gets around anti-proposition laws he matter-of-factly reminds her that he sells companionship, not sex.  Sometimes, his clients don't necessarily want sex, but just intimacy and someone to talk to.  For a pre-determined price, Leo will do whatever is asked of him, and Nancy wants to experience intercourse like she's never had before.  He's a calm spoken and patient sex worker (sorry, companionship worker) and doesn't aggressively rush Nancy, but she's so ridiculously shy and has such body disturbance issues that she just can't get comfortable within her own skin...or to allow for Leo to get comfortable with her.  To make things go more smoothly, Leo allows Nancy time to simply talk to him and reveal anything that's on her mind before they get down to business.  She's quite amazed by how little shame he appears to have for his vocation and how he takes to it with a nonchalant normalcy, which puts her at greater ease early on.  Plus, he never once shows any hesitation or revulsion for having older clients (he boastfully reveals that he once had a woman decades older than Nancy that secured his services, which makes her feel better and get over her embarrassment).  Slowly, but surely, Nancy is able to let her guard and inhibitions down over the course of four hotel meetings, but the more she probes into Leo's history (and relationship with his own mother) the more their business deal starts to sour. 

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE is arguably at its most enthralling during the first two sessions between Nancy and Leo, which isn't so much about them getting it on as it is about the verbal chess games that they partake in.  Leo understands that his new client is definitely going to need some coaxing to get out of her deeply entrenched introverted self, whereas Nancy has to find herself feeling at ease with what amounts to a complete stranger (and she has to get past the fact he'll just be the second man in her life that she's had sex with).  There are times when Nancy's bashfulness is almost overbearing, but Leo is so congenial and well mannered, not to mention that he has this innate conversational gift for making people around him feel relaxed and eventually willing participants.  She's worried that he won't find her attractive.  He says no problem.  She then worries that he'll never be able to bring her to orgasm.  Again, he says no problem (and promises her that she will).  There's a kind openness between the pair that makes the film so involving in the early stages.  GOOD LUCK TO YOU LEO GRANDE is a sex dramedy, but it's in no rush to get to the sex.  Equally intriguing is this film's non-judgmental attitudes that he has for its characters, especially for Leo.  Other film's might have mocked him and his profession for sick jokes, but Hyde treats him with as much dignity as Nancy, which is refreshing to see. 

Again, this story takes place in a hotel room through much of the running time, but Hyde places such faith in her actors and trusts their performance instincts that it helps elevate the film above its less than stellar stylistic flair (to be fair, Hyde uses fairly understated camera setups and staging, which works for the most part, but oftentimes just makes the production look more like a filmed play than a visually arresting film itself).  Having said that, too much style might have been distracting when it comes to Hyde's ultimate motives here, because, when all is said and done, GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE is a performance showcase reel more than anything on top of an exploration of two people from polar opposite sides of the societal spectrum trying to connect and trust one another.  One thing that keeps dramatic momentum going is the mysteriousness of Leo himself: He tells Nancy that he provides false job information to his loved ones back home to shield them from the truth, but Nancy begins to see cracks in that information.  And the more she inquires the more it begins to contravene their established business agreement.  In many ways, Nancy is trying to let her guard down and open up, but Leo is all business and wants to keep every aspect of his personal life a well guarded secret and won't relent to her increasingly aggressive queries.  This taps into one of the sub themes of the film in terms of these two souls not only understanding what makes them tick, but also valuing the respecting personal boundaries and a need for privacy.   

Thompson is simply mesmerizing in this film, not only for how daringly raw her performance is here (it's as vanity-free as I've seen from any actor of of late), but also for how she has to credibly relay this woman's deep insecurities (her social awkwardness makes for some of the film's best earned laughs) and later someone that develops the courage to just give in and strip away (no pun intended) all of her emotional guards that impede her intimacy issues.  And newcomer McCormack arguably has the trickier role of the pair in terms portraying a prostitute with an atypical amount of compassion and sophistication while showing hidden frailties buried deep beneath is confident facade.  And despite the fact that Thompson is old enough to be McCormack's mother, their shared chemistry is palpable throughout and once they do engage in sex it feels earned and completely authentically rendered.  I do think that GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE becomes less interesting when the plot begins to obsess over Nancy's equal obsession with finding out Leo's secrets, which don't pay off all that well.  But when the film is about these complex people having frank conversations about what sex means it's easily more compelling than when we do get unavoidable scenes of pure eroticism.  

The big take away from GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE is that it never feels exploitative in the slightest (even though with weaker actors and a less focused filmmaker it could have devolved into just that).  Hollywood films seem to be demonstratively timid when it comes to on-screen sexuality in any form.  What a welcome relief it is to watch a film like this that embraces sexuality in all forms and deals with an older woman navigating through emotional minefield contained within.  Bedroom dramas are almost a dying breed, which makes insightful and smart ones like GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE all the more special. 

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