There are plenty of movies about sex, but not enough movies about sexual pleasure involving women of a certain age. Written by comedian Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde (2019’s “Animals”), “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is funny, sweet, and liberating, a gentle human comedy without shame or judgment. When you really get down to it, this is just one long conversation, but it’s delightfully frank and open-hearted conversation in and out of the sheets.
The great Emma Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a widowed, retired religious education teacher. She hires a suave sex worker named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for, well, sex. Over the course of the film, they meet three times and it’s always in the same hotel room. The first time they meet, Nancy just wants to get it over with, being anxious and embarrassed by her own body. But by the end of the afternoon, Nancy reaches enough satisfaction. On their second meeting, Nancy has already loosened up a bit more. She’s even made a list of things she would like to experience and most of the goals are achievable. By the third meeting, Nancy and Leo have grown so comfortable with each other, until she goes too far and breaks a few boundaries, wanting to know the real Leo beyond their transaction.
For 97 minutes, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a smartly written two-hander made all the more engaging and nuanced by its two wonderful performers. Sophie Hyde’s direction is understated and unobtrusive, but she naturally knows where to place the camera, as if the hotel room were a stage. Really, Hyde just knows what she’s got between Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack and lets them rip with Katy Brand’s sharp writing.
It sounds like an overused cliché, but oh well: Emma Thompson is at the top of her game here. A pro at always delivering an already-witty line in a sly or unexpected way with ace timing, Thompson is outstanding as Nancy, a woman who feels unremarkable. Nancy is insecure and indecisive. She’s never been sexually adventurous or been able to orgasm, and part of that is only ever having one partner, her late husband. She asks Leo (if that’s even his real name) a lot of questions, but Nancy herself isn’t always truthful about herself (just wait until you hear her real name). Once Leo Grande gives her the pleasure she’s never had, she even quips that it’s like “bathing in a warm sea.” When it’s time to leave Nancy, her arc feels poignant and whole.
As the titular Leo Grande, Daryl McCormack (TV’s “Peaky Blinders”) is a charming and aesthetically pleasing specimen. There is so much more to him beyond a hot bod, though, and more going on behind those piercing green eyes of his. He’s never less than a gentleman to Nancy, calling her “empirically sexy” and never forcing her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. For him, what he does is a service he finds pleasure in, too; it’s not demeaning or exploitative, and he doesn’t feel used or bought. Of course, Leo has told his family that he works on an oil rig, not because he’s ashamed, but because it’s just easier that way. McCormack has such a natural, magnetic screen presence that one almost feels seduced alongside Nancy.
Tender, sensual, and even sexy, the film is never squeamish about friction between two different bodies. In fact, it has a pretty positive outlook on not only sex and body but age and work as well. The script is mature and revealing in more ways than one about both Nancy and Leo, and director Sophie Hyde always keeps it tasteful enough without being too safe. On the whole, what Hyde manages to pull off would seem so simple, or shooting mainly in one location could have easily made the film feel staid or grow visually stale. That’s never the case here, as the two people we get to watch and listen to are so endlessly interesting and appealing. Seemingly, it looks effortless, especially when Thompson and McCormack’s chemistry becomes such a thing of beauty.
There’s no need to fake enthusiasm over a rare and special pleasure like “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.”
Searchlight Pictures is releasing Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (97 min.) on Hulu on June 17, 2022.