Wednesday 7 September 2022

Movie Review: Good Luck To You, Leo Grande (2022)

A seductive two-person drama about sexual fulfillment, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande explores an older woman's sexual curiosity with raw sensitivity and a dash of humour.

In her mid 50s, retired school teacher Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) hires sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for a couple of hours at a hotel room in London. A widow, Nancy has only ever had perfunctory sex with her husband, and has never experienced an orgasm. She is now insecure about her age, her body, and her lack of experience, but willing to learn if she can overcome her anxieties.

Leo is from Ireland and helps Nancy relax. Their conversations cover her experience as a teacher and parent, and his fraught relationship with his mother. After their first session they meet again, establishing a rapport as she seeks to experience more sexual variety and pleasure. But Nancy and Leo also test each other's boundaries, threatening their burgeoning relationship.

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande wades into the ticklish subject of sex and desire at an older age, and adds a further layer of delicious intrigue with the always ripe-for-controversy sex-for-money topic. Writer Katy Brand creates a fearlessly awkward portrait of two people from the opposite side of everything - age, gender, class, sexual experience, confidence - and throws them together for 97 minutes of irresistible intimacy.

Director Sophie Hyde crafts a theatre-ready - but not theatrical - drama, allowing the vibe between Nancy and Leo to ebb and flow, with just a few of the exchanges sounding forced. From the initial hello to the information probes and then the headlong dives into painful revelations, the energy never flags. Nancy wants to make up for lost time between the sheets but has no idea how to overcome a life's worth of repression. Leo offers much more than sex-as-a-service: he is a patient listener, and happy to ease into the role of amateur therapist.

From a starting point of sexual exploration, Brand expands into several stimulating topics including the societal benefits of commercial sex, the prevalence of slut shaming, and functionally dysfunctional marriages. The motherhood experience emerges as a powerful theme, Nancy's statements about her kids suggesting a cold core consistent with a teacher harbouring single-minded expectations. Leo only gradually reveals the broken bond with his mother. Their tender scars become flashpoints, Nancy erroneously adopting an educator's condescending stance to understand and fix the real Leo, while he counters with her less than stellar track record within her own family.

Emma Thompson is radiant as a woman hesitantly deciding to cross multiple rubicons: paying for sex, with a stranger, for the sole purpose of discovering the sexual pleasure she has never known. Daryl McCormack matcher her beats with a smooth portrayal of a sex worker comfortably confident in his own skin. Far from needing any luck, Leo Grande excels.

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