Sophie Hyde’s sex-positive work of art
In director Sophie Hyde’s new movie, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, retired school teacher Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) invites a sex worker into her hotel room. Immediately picking up on the older woman’s anxiety, Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) assures her they’re going to have a great time, but Nancy steers away from any sort of erotic conversation with random chatter: about Leo’s work, about her dead husband, about Nigella Lawson, even–whom Leo remarks is very sexy.
“For her age,” Nancy corrects him. “Most people say she’s sexy for her age.” But Nigella, Leo maintains, “is empirically sexy at any age.”
Nancy’s own internalized ageism is one of the many conceptions Leo challenges her on throughout the course of Hyde’s heart-wrenching, comical–and, yes–sexy drama. Most of the film takes place in the same hotel room, over several meetings. There, Leo is not so much a teacher but a partner in Nancy’s process of learning how to give and receive pleasure. Although, they mostly just … talk.
Their conversation dips mainly into three topics, mostly relating to the vastly different ways Nancy and Leo view the world. The question of how age relates to beauty and pleasure constantly hangs in the air, due to Nancy’s insecurities. At one point, she remarks to Leo that she hired him because she doesn’t want an old man, despite being ashamed of her own aging body. Whenever she imagines him at all hesitant, to her, this must be because of her age.
But neither can the teacher quite wrap her mind around why Leo would want to be a sex worker at all. She wonders, doesn’t he feel demeaned or used? (The answer, put simply, is no.) This question of the ethics of sex work–which Leo patiently bears–goes hand in hand with the third major theme of the film: women’s pleasure and the orgasm gap.
That’s why, despite all of Nancy’s reservations–she and Leo have come together in the first place. Leo: to give, of his own choice, pleasure. Nancy: to shed preconceptions and to experience sexual fulfilment for the very first time. Playing an utterly charming pair with dynamic chemistry, Thompson and McCormack each slowly peel back these layers of the other’s character.
What comes across in summary as extremely on-the-nose topics are, in execution, weaved in naturally (and quite funnily) into the dialogue–courtesy of accomplished screenwriter, Katy Brand.
In the fourth and final part of the movie, Hyde and Brand effortlessly bring to a stunning conclusion what could have easily been contrived themes in the wrong hands. But with their artful direction and writing, buoyed by Thompson’s and McCormack’s vulnerable performances, Leo Grande could never have been a film of flat ideologies.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande isn’t just a film about sex. It’s about healing, autonomy, compassion, and self-love. Here, Thompson and McCormack bare all–both physically and emotionally–and it’s a sight to see.
Verdict - 10/10