Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a film about a middle aged woman hiring a young stud for impersonal hotel sex. Things get talky rather than saucy (that stuff is going on off-screen). So much so that you can almost imagine watching it with your mother. Your Mother May Vary.
It’s a stage piece, really, a two-hander that feels expressly written for that clever, dithery, diffident, endlessly self-unpromoting British character Emma Thompson has been playing for what seems like aeons. Nanny McPhee gets her bits out.
Nancy, not Nanny, since Thompson plays Nancy Stokes (possibly not her real name), a recently widowed ex-teacher whose blameless life of service to her husband, children and career now seems, at this point in her life, like a cruel joke. On top of that she’s never had an orgasm, not even on her own, and has had only one sexual partner in her entire time on the planet. Since her husband died she’s not been short of offers of consolatory sex, but she doesn’t want sex with “old men”. She wants a hard-bodied hottie who will make her go weak when he peels off his shirt.
Enter Daryl McCormack as Leo Grande – obvious porn name – a handsome Irish guy with charm as well developed as his sculpted physique and an easy, reassuring smile.
In the way of these things, it does not end there. Both parties have issues to be aired, puzzled over and possibly solved. Nancy is boiling with resentment at having missed out on the life she might have had if motherhood hadn’t intervened – she admits she finds her son “boring”. Leo for his part is not quite the carefree charmer he paints himself as and beneath the smooth surface disquiet is also bubbling. Leo isn’t so much ashamed of what he does as ashamed that he lacks the balls to be honest about it to his mother and brother. They think he works on an oil rig.
If you know the director’s name, Sophie Hyde, it might be from a strange but sensitively handled film, 52 Tuesdays, which also dealt with non-straightforward sexuality – the gender transition of a parent seen through the eyes of a teenage daughter – but this isn’t really a director’s film, though Hyde does make sure her camera comes with a “female gaze” – it’s interested in Leo’s body more than Nancy’s.
It’s more a writer’s movie. Katy Brand wrote it, adding movies to a lengthening list of accomplishments – stand-up comedian, actor, TV presenter, novelist, podcaster. A writer’s and actors’ movie, with Thompson and McCormack playing against each other in ways that feel just right. She the nervous virgin, he the man of the world, neither quite either of those things underneath and the age difference undercutting both positions. There was no intimacy co-ordinator on the film, apparently, instead Thompson, McCormack and Hyde rehearsed the sex scenes all totally naked, a fact that was juiced for press coverage. That said, there’s barely any nudity in it.
At a certain point it wobbles, and there are some very stagey expositional “getting it all off our chests” scenes that seem designed to quickly get through what feel like the screenwriting manual’s prescriptions for a dramatic resolution. We’ve named the problem, we’ve hashed the problem about and now we’re going to damn well resolve that problem.
And then it recovers again, thanks in large part to an arrival from left-field in the shape of Isabella Laughland, as one of the ex teacher’s former pupil’s, now a surly but smart waitress at the hotel where Nancy and Leo have their assignations.
In its messaging it’s a touch 1970s Cosmopolitan – orgasm as a right and a duty – but it’s not strident about it. This is in fact a nice, positive, upbeat story of two people who find each other and use each other in the right way, then leave the scene feeling a little better than when they arrived.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022