A Unique Film
In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack give powerful and intimate performances. Their striking work pivots a prosaic story about a sex worker and his client into novel territory.
First, the script by Katy Brand knocks away all the tropes about sex workers’ abusive and impoverished backgrounds. Second, the film’s gender and age reversal upend, with artistic genius, conservative notions of “appropriate” intimacy. Finally, Thompson’s bold daring in revealing the beauty of her older body, untouched by a Hollywood or New York surgeon’s hands, absolutely kills.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande enjoyed its New York premiere screening at the Tribeca Film Festival with a Q&A afterward.
Ultimately, this film’s thematically ironic and compelling comedy thumbs its nose at many things. Certainly, it twits machismo and double standards of old men with young women. Also, it questions the fashion industry’s damaging, fascistic notions of loveliness. Sardonically, the film twerks uber political conservatism, uplifted by men and women justifying sexual correctness.
However, Thompson and the filmmakers keep it refreshing by not seeking out leftist counterarguments. Instead, director Sophie Hyde’s approach and Brand’s maverick script deal with a widower’s perspective. Indeed, in revealing Nancy’s desire to experience oral sex and sexual intimacy that results in orgasm, the director keeps it funny, yet realistic.
50-something Nancy’s condition of never experiencing sexual pleasure will probably resonate with a large percentage of women, who will empathize with Nancy. Even in this day and age, it might take a secure man to reveal that his wife faked orgasm, as Nancy discusses with McCormack’s Leo. Indeed, the audience at the screening laughed when she shows Leo how she pretend-moaned with her husband during sex. Women will identify; men, perhaps not. But, as the film seems to ask, has that ever been a problem? Certainly, Nancy’s husband “did what he needed,” and with satisfaction about his prowess rolled over and snored off to sleep.
Though Nancy and her husband raised two children, sex bored her. She confesses to Leo that raising children and teaching produced a lackluster life. The film gently exposes Nancy’s hope to finally plunge into the daring, as she awkwardly engages with the stunning Leo Grande.
Initially, obstacles delay their intimacy. Her inexperience with sexual pleasure and her desire to investigate her body’s sensuality fill her with guilt and angst. Her fears and opprobrium at hiring Leo, and his expert ease and control in gently unraveling her stiff, self-loathing, endear us to their unfiltered humanity.
A Fascinating Script That Attracted Thompson
In the Q&A the filmmakers revealed profound themes that Thompson highlighted. The fascinating script appealed to her because of its uniqueness. In fact, personal sexuality, an important fact of life, remains occluded, stigmatized, politicized in some cultures – in the film, the U.K. Brand’s enlightening script focuses instructively on middle class women like Nancy. To salve their egos they have fulfilled the “normal” cultural folkways expected of them.
Getting married, having children, working and sacrificing for the home, Nancy appears the good wife and mother. However, her goals as a young woman changed as she lived. She abided by others’ standards to please them. Disappointed by segments of her life, by not pleasing herself, Nancy remains unfulfilled. Hiring someone to pleasure her, she believes, will satisfy one aspect of her life as she steps into her last chapters before dying. Also, she intimates that the experience may revitalize her and give her a new sense of purpose. For indeed, contacting Leo Grande is an act of courage for her.
Will Thompson’s Character Overcome Her Fear?
The problem remains. Can she go through with sex and have her orgasm? For the first part of the film, Thompson convincingly reveals that Nancy can’t. Thus, they don’t immediately “get it on” and must talk. Only because McCormick’s Leo overcomes her guilt, fear, hatred of her body and frightful cultural folkways do they achieve intimacy, though no orgasm on the first try. For Nancy this beginning step resonates in her soul. Leo helps her learn to despise her body less, a historic breakthrough for her. Humorously, when they meet again, she produces a list of firsts to try out with gusto. We laugh at her progress in this new adventure, all the while wondering how many women would follow Nancy’s bold choice seeking out a man 30 years her junior?
Brand creates extraordinary characters that Thompson and McCormick inhabit with spot-on vulnerability. They show that the power of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande lies in its investigation of the inner and outer limits of nullifying cultural mores. These retributive folkways prevent lifetimes of sexual understanding and pleasure for men and women. Leo Grande’s savvy, emotional generosity and expertise offer comfort as Nancy gradually blossoms and eases into new sexual experiences. One can note in the film the possibility of vital, life-affirming sexual encounters. Indeed, Leo and Nancy uncover each other’s deeper selves, surprisingly for both.
Orgasm Without Love?
Brand’s themes, beautifully realized by the actors, expand throughout the film as the characters develop and learn from each other. The story reveals that optimal sexual enjoyment for Nancy and Leo happens with understanding, honesty, sensitive connection and compassion.
With artistry, the film amazes with a “terrifying” conclusion: Intimacy can be achieved with sensitivity and concern without “romantic” love. Indeed, love and what it means in popular culture (music, film, women’s fiction, etc.) infantilizes and skews adult intimacy. The film reminds us that women’s sexuality may be longer lasting than men’s, as revealed by Alfred Kinsey in his studies and books about human sexuality. It offers a vital female perspective and voice via the dialogue between the two characters. Also, it provides food for thought in our discussion about sex and pleasure for women as they age.
The actors’ listening, the director’s cinematic choices, including setting, close-ups, the natural lighting, the gradual revelations of character as Nancy and Leo eventually discuss their backstories make this an intriguing and incredible work. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a must-see for its performances, fine script and acute direction. Look for it on Hulu.