Good Luck to You, Leo Grande shows us that the key to understanding our own sexuality is self-worth, rather than preconceived notions about pleasure.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is the story of a recently widowed, retired secondary school teacher who’s pretty sure she’s never had good sex. One day, Nancy (Emma Thompson, of Late Night and Cruella) decides to do something about her lack of knowledge on the subject: she hires a young sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack, of The Wheel of Time and Pixie) and meets him in a hotel room. From this synopsis alone, you might think you have an idea of how director Sophie Hyde‘s (52 Tuesdays, Animals) comedy might play out, with the confident, experienced Leo Grande showing our awkward, inexperienced widower what she’s been missing out on, and Nancy learning something about herself in the process. While this does happen in the film, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is also a completely different kind of film – a charming comedy drama that cleverly explores women’s sexuality and desires with honesty and humour, but that ultimately sends across a poignant message about acceptance and self-love.
The film begins by intoducing its two protagonists: Nancy stands in the hotel room, waiting for her date, and Leo finishes reading a book in a cafe and leaves, on his way to meeting her. And so, these two strangers meet, both knowing absolutely nothing about each other’s lives and identities, and both showing one another a specific side of themselves – the sex worker who is proud of how good he is at his job, and the repressed Religious Education school teacher who can’t even say the word “pleasure” out loud, and whose fantasies and desires are “…to have sex? Tonight? With you?”. But then, Nancy and Leo Grande begin to talk, and, in between awkward conversations about age gaps, past experiences, and disappointing relatives, we find out a little more about the people they are underneath, and we begin to warm up to them.
Nancy and Leo Grande end up meeting three times, and, as their relationship evolves, so does the film, tackling a series of timely yet rarely talked about topics not only about sexuality, and women’s sexuality in particular, but also about the experience of being human. During their first meeting, Nancy tells Leo that she’s never had an orgasm, and then quickly proceeds to let him know that what she has just said is “not meant as a challenge,” that he shouldn’t “feel bad about it,” since she won’t be faking it, and that he “can relax”, because she’s “not expecting one.” While, on the surface, Nancy might be seen as a sexually repressed person, we soon find out that what she really is is the product of a society that teaches women that their purpose is to please men. Women are not allowed to experience pleasure, so much so that, when they don’t, their first worry should be about reassuring men that it’s not their fault, and that they shouldn’t take it personally. On their second meeting, Nancy shows up with a very non-sexy, hilarious list of “feedback and attainment goals” that she complied so as “to feel a sense of achievement,” and the first item on her list involves her pleasuring Leo, and not the opposite. Not only does Nancy’s list highlight just how obsessed we are with reaching a goal instead of enjoying the experience, but it also shows us that, when someone fails to do so, this failure is entirely on them, and so they’re on the receiving end of a whole lot of judgement and unmet expectations, ultimately carrying the resulting guilt and shame with them for their entire lives.
These are just some examples of how Good Luck to You, Leo Grande uses humour and witty conversations to tackle many universally acknowledged yet hardly discussed truths not only about how women experience sexuality, but also about how human beings experience life as a whole. By showing us how quickly Nancy’s moods change, depending on new worries conjured up by her own mind, the film depicts the anxieties that most of us face when it comes to connecting with others, and “letting go of the thing that grips you, that judges you, that watches you from the outside,” as Leo Grande puts it. Not only that, but there’s a significant change of pace and dynamics in the third act which might initially seem muddled and out of character, but that ultimately highlights our tendency to project ourselves onto others, and shows us just how hard it is to be truly vulnerable with someone, even when connecting with people is what you do for a living.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is very dialogue-heavy, as it mostly takes place in the same hotel room, with the same two characters talking to one another. Yet, the film always remains gripping, and that is thanks to a screenplay (Katy Brand, of Glued) that effectively blends humour and drama while never forgetting about character and narrative development, as well as two exceptional performances from Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. If at the beginning of the film Nancy physically embodies all her anxieties and uncertainties about her age and her lack of experience, our protagonist radically changes by the end, as what she learns about herself turns her into a completely different person. It’s thanks to Emma Thompson that Nancy is such a multifaceted character, appearing endearing and hilarious at times and exhausting at others, but always incredibly relatable and human. Daryl McCormack also excels as Leo Grande, as he manages to show us two very distinct sides of the same character – his sex worker persona and the man behind the mask – and balance moments of extreme confidence with others of great vulnerability, reaching us on an emotional level even if we know so little about both personas.
“You’re not paying for the truth; you’re paying for a fantasy,” Leo tells Nancy at the beginning of the film. But it’s hard to establish a connection with anyone without knowing the truth, and that applies both to the people we meet and to ourselves. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande plays out in a conventional way that resembles that of a theatre play because of its intimate nature and attention to dialogue, but that is actually a bold choice, as it takes us to that hotel room with Nancy and Leo, and forces us to listen to them and face our own truths.Good Luck to You, Leo Grande ultimately emphasises the importance of self-worth and acceptance. Through its many moments of humor and honesty, the film cleverly challenges stigmas about sexuality and sex workers, highlights the universal struggles we face as human beings, and bravely shows us that the answers we seek must come from within, and not from the outside.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2022, and will be screened again on the festival’s platform on January 24-25. The film has been acquired by Lionsgate U.K. for distribution. Click here for tickets and screenings and here for our recommendations of films to watch at the festival.
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