The politics of the bedroom is the central focus of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. Emma Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a widow and retired school teacher on the other side of sixty. Her life has been decades of English repression, in a passionless marriage that left her unsatisfied and unfulfilled, with two children who are disappointments in different ways. Looking desperately for a new shift as she faces her autumn years, she hires the titular Leo Grande. Grande is played by Irish actor Daryl McCormack, whose chiseled physique and stunning good looks make him a perfect choice for the role of a high-priced sex worker. Nancy isn’t sure what she wants from Leo, but Leo is a professional, skilled at putting his clients at ease and fulfilling their desires and fantasies.
From the jump, Nancy proves a difficult client. She deflects and prolongs conversations, terrified by the anticipation and shamed by her own aging body. Leo is unflappable, always knowing the right thing to say, defusing Nancy’s haphazard attempts at destroying their sessions. His judgment-free attitude makes him perfect for the job, but Nancy is pure vulnerability, and her volatility often drags Leo into conversations that he’s not interested in having. The film’s script, by English comedian Katy Brand, takes place mostly in a single hotel suite over the course of four sessions, consisting of a long dialogue between Nancy and Leo. They often repeat arguments and debates in different ways in each scene, trading oedipal dilemmas and performing psychotherapy (between sex acts) on one another.
It’s a trite premise, but director Sophie Hyde is deft enough to make Leo Grande an effective enough take on it. In a film this limited in cinematic scope, it helps that its two lead performances are as good as they are here. McCormack, as the hunky prostitute, shows real depth both in the ways he seduces his scene partner and how he reacts as that same partner holds him at arm’s length. Brand’s effusive sex work positivity can be heavy-handed, but McCormack finds a real person underneath it all. Thompson, already one of our greatest screen actors, absolutely crushes this part, which effectively highlights her preternatural abilities with comedy and drama. Enough press has been made about her participation in the film’s handful of sex scenes, but Leo Grande reminds you much more of the unlimited well of her talent, her own vulnerability and fearlessness. Courting controversy, the performance instead leaves you breathless at such a heartbreaking portrayal of crippling insecurity.
This movie was released directly to Hulu, which seems to be the fate of all the films distributed by the once-mighty Fox Searchlight Pictures (now, just Searchlight Pictures). It’s another in an industry-wide plan to scuttle adult dramas out of theaters to make more room for films like Lightyear. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is in no ways a radical film, or even an explicitly political one, but it does have a point-of-view and it does take a stance on now-contended topics like the legitimacy of sex work and the worldwide treatment of women of a certain age. You won’t find anything like that in Top Gun: Maverick, which doesn’t even name the country its protagonists are bombing. Which is precisely why Leo Grande deserves its day in court, for the audience to decide what does and does not belong in movie theaters. Unfortunately, we live in an era where corporations are making that decision for us and – surprise, surprise – they’re making those decisions based on their own self-interest.
Directed by Sophie Hyde