Nudity and sex may bring the curious to Good Luck to You, Leo Grande but many viewers will be surprised to be moved more by the touching emotional journey that the characters take.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, about a middle aged woman’s sexual awakening, rests entirely on the performances of its two leads who elevate the premise to a tender tale of affirmation and self-acceptance. Daryl McCormack as Leo, a hunky sex worker and, especially, Emma Thompson as Nancy, the uptight widow who pays for his services, bring more introspection and nuance to the frisky material than one might expect.
Thompson’s Nancy Stokes (not her real name), a recently widowed former teacher wants to experience satisfying sex for the first time in her life with a hot young man. She hires handsome Leo Grande (not his real name) who shows up at her hotel full of the charm and confidence needed to get the nervous Nancy to enjoy the erotic pleasures he has to offer.
This starts out as predictable, if enjoyable, comic shtick. As uptight Nancy swigs nips from the hotel room’s mini bar, Thompson delivers comic lines like the pro she is, telling suave Leo that “there are nuns who have more sexual experience” than she has. Nancy confesses that her husband, the only sex partner she’s had, wasn’t adventurous or attentive. Although it’s a stretch to imagine someone as vivacious as Emma Thompson being so repressed, Nancy’s sexual limitations are not played for laughs at her expense.
Director Sophie Hyde, working from a script by Katy Brand, stays with Nancy’s point of view as she shares more than physical intimacy with Leo. A more nuanced film develops, along with the characters, into something delicate and introspective. Ever the planner, Nancy hires Leo for repeat trysts so she can check sexual goals off her list. She surprises herself not just sexually but with her growing awareness of her own limitations in all areas including the harsh judgement she imparted on her young female students who, unlike her, embraced sexual freedom. She even engages with Leo about the pros and cons of sex work.
The film doesn’t go far in addressing the physical or emotional risks of sex work or its power dynamics; this film isn’t American Gigolo from the older woman’s point of view. Leo is a bit too good to be true; his “mother issues” seem rather tame and since Nancy is disappointed by her adult children, their emotional baggage is a bit schematic.
But the strength of Leo Grande is that it’s about how sex can lead to self-discovery and self-acceptance. Rather than a winking geriatric sex comedy, it’s closer to The Sessions (2012) with Helen Hunt as the professional sex surrogate who guides Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), paralyzed from the neck down due to polio, though his first sexual experiences. Sexual freedom for Nancy may mean that she finally sees her maturing body with acceptance; an act that for her is pretty satisfying.