Film & Television

‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’: Worth a Good Long Look

Nancy Stokes is a retired religious education teacher, mother of two adult children, and recently widowed. You might think that sex would be low on her list.

You’d be wrong.

Not only is sex a priority for her, but her list includes several rather specific variations. “Number one, I perform oral sex on you. Number two, you perform oral sex on me. Number three, we do a 69, if that’s what it’s still called. Four, me on top. Five, doggy-style.”

This recitation is for the benefit of one Leo Grande, the escort Nancy’s hired. Although taken aback when he realizes she’d like to tick all those boxes in a single session, Leo assures her they can “make a significant dent in it.”

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, is frank and funny, and surprisingly sexy. Except for a couple of scenes in coffee shops, the entire nearly two-hour film takes place in a nice but non-descript hotel room with only two actors. In fact, it feels very much like a stage play (an observation I made multiple times to my increasingly irritated husband while we watched it). Without exactly the right actors with exactly the right chemistry, the movie would be a snore, regardless of all the sex talk. Fortunately for Brand, Hyde, and those of us in the audience, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande stars Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack.

As Nancy, Thompson doesn’t disappoint. Then again, I can’t remember ever being less than enthralled by her, whether she was playing a magical caregiver (Nanny McPhee), a grieving wife (Love Actually), a Disney villain (Cruella), a wise Austenian sister (Sense and Sensibility), or a sharp-tongued Shakespearean heroine (Much Ado About Nothing). Thompson, who has won two Oscars, one for acting and one for writing, was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2018. But, she is recognized as one of her generation’s finest actors on either side of the pond. 

The role of Nancy Stokes (not her real name, btw) requires a bit of a balancing act. She’s often funny but can’t be ridiculous. We have to feel empathy for her, even though — let’s face it — she’s buying sex. She’s woke enough to recognize that human trafficking is more serious than 1990’s Pretty Woman and its fairytale happy ending. In fact, the only time Good Luck to You, Leo Grande drags a bit is when Nancy upbraids herself  (“I’m just a seedy old pervert. I feel like Rolf Harris”) or grills Leo on why he would sell his body (“I just don’t understand why you’re doing this”). The script gets a bit preachy, but rights itself. Leo assures her there’s been no trauma. He does what he does because he’s good at it and enjoys it. 

McCormack, a relative newcomer who has admitted in interviews that he was a bit intimidated to be working with Thompson, is charming. Depending on what Nancy needs at any given moment, his Leo Grande (not his real name either, btw) is her coach, her confidant, a sounding board, or a seducer. He has a soft voice and pleasing manner. And he is stunningly beautiful — a detail that is not lost on his client. “Can I touch your shoulders?” she asks, tentatively caressing his much younger, much muscled form.

At the start of the movie, Leo is a gift that Nancy has bought for herself to make up for the thirty years she spent in a passionless marriage. “I’ve never had an orgasm,” she admits, and now she wants to see for herself “what the fuss is all about.” Although the “big O” continues to elude her, Leo turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. However, he comes with a price tag (the actual price is never mentioned, but it’s implied that he’s expensive because he’s worth it) and a set of boundaries. When Nancy crosses one of the professional lines he’s drawn, he reacts with uncustomary rage and abruptly ends their transaction. Perhaps there was some trauma after all.

Anyone who invests in the Nancy-Leo relationship (and it’s hard not to) will be happy to know that after some soul-searching, some honesty, and a couple of cups of really bad coffee, they are able to reconcile for one last afternoon of pleasure before going their separate ways. If you want more details than that, you’ll have to watch the movie.

Interestingly, while sex is certainly center stage, the topic of safe sex gets short shrift. Counter to her character, Nancy, who has always been meticulous and list-centric, doesn’t ask Leo about STDs, much less masks or vaccines. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande takes place in a world without COVID, but in some ways it must have been the perfect pandemic project with its limited locales and tiny cast. And, watching it is a nice reminder that deeply human connections can be made in even the unlikeliest of situations.

If you’ve followed the news surrounding Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’s release, you may realize that I’ve buried the lead. I’ll address it now.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande includes (drumroll, please) Dame Emma’s first nude scene. The actor is 63 and — to her credit — has not had any “work” done to her face or any part of her anatomy. For reference, her Sense and Sensibility costar Kate Winslet vowed in 2009 not to get naked onscreen anymore. “I don’t want to be known for always getting my kit off,” she said at the time, as only a Brit could. Winslet is 16 years Thompson’s junior and was just 34 at the time.

Thompson admits that she approached the ordeal with some trepidation, and credits director Hyde for creating a safe space on set. The actors (and crew) spent time discussing which body parts made them insecure and, in an act of solidarity, got naked together.

Getting naked was the central theme at this year’s Berlinale festival where the film was screening. Thompson spoke passionately about body positivity, asserting that “Women have been brainwashed into hating our bodies. It is a fact.” She continued by explaining what it was like to disrobe as Nancy, ““I can’t stand like that in front of a mirror. Because if I’m in front of a mirror, I move, I put something on, I turn on my side, I do something. I can’t be like this [still] because it’s horrifying. And that’s the problem, isn’t it?” She went on to challenge the female journalists to try it for themselves.

I like to think I’m “body positive.” In fact, on an anniversary trip to Greece last month, I sunbathed topless despite being considerably older than many of the women on the beach. So, I accepted Thompson’s challenge, stripped, and stood in front of a full-length mirror. Inspired, I took a good long look at myself.

But, I pulled in my stomach first. Sorry, Emma.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is available to stream on Hulu.

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  • Roz Warren July 22, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    At 67, I don’t know if I want to see this movie or hire a hot young male sex worker. Maybe both? Maybe I can hire a hot young male sex worker to watch this movie with?

  • Mary F June 21, 2022 at 11:03 am

    Does this film address the necessity for a post-menopausal woman to use lubricants and other supplements, hormone or otherwise, to make intercourse painfree? I have read numerous reviews of this film, as well as heard Ms Thompson interviewed, and this aspect of sex for a 63 year old woman in never mentioned. If this reality is ignored, I am not sure how “body positive” this film actually is.