A beautiful (mostly) single location, two-hander, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is charming, funny, and quite simply, an utter delight. Directed by Sophie Hyde and written by comedian Katy Brand, the film works as a comedy, a story of connection, and as a piece of commentary about sex work. But most of all, it’s a film about reconciling and celebrating the choices we’ve made in our lives.
Widowed and retired, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) has decided to do the unimaginable and hire a young sex worker. She does this not because she’s lonely, but because she’s frustrated and curious. Frustrated with herself for never telling her husband that she wanted more from their sex life, and curious about things she only heard of but never experienced. Never mind that she’s never had an orgasm, she just wants to try oral sex and different sexual positions for the first time.
A young man, Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), arrives at the hotel — he’s elegant, gorgeous, and disarmingly charismatic. He eases Nancy’s anxiety and appeals to her school teacher days by using words like “empirically”. To Nancy’s surprise, he isn’t doing this as a way to pay for school or to fund some other endeavour. For Leo, this is a job he enjoys and one he’s good at.
While the focus of the film is Nancy, Brand and Hyde do well to not have Leo simply be a human dildo, nor do they make him a tortured and broken man. Bolstered by McCormack’s portrayal, Leo is a complex character whose backstory is revealed in pieces. McCormack balances his confidence with quiet moments and glances that bring a sensitivity to Leo.
To no one’s surprise, Thompson is magnetic. She’s the embodiment of an organized mess. Nancy is neurotic and a ball of apprehension, but she’s on a budget and timeline. She knows what she wants to do with Leo (even providing a list), and is trying to power her way through in spite of herself. Nancy bares her soul to Leo in a way she’s never done with another. The vulnerability, humour, and general brilliance Thompson shows in this role may be expected, but it’s nonetheless incredible.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande isn’t what most will expect. It isn’t preachy, overly-sentimental, or even that sexual. The film is thoughtful and honest about the fear most of us have that we aren’t living our lives to the fullest, or experiencing everything we can because we’re scared to ask. Nancy represents all those people who live their lives not wanting to cause conflict or problems. And while it’s easy enough to say Leo is the next generation who are more sure of themselves and open-minded, by his own admission, he has insecurities similar to Nancy, despite their differences.
The film is a true triumph in collaborative filmmaking. The script, direction, performances, and cinematography all come together perfectly to deliver a sweet movie that has depth and something to say. A wonderful film that doesn’t overcomplicate things and reminds us not to either — like Leo tells Nancy: “It’s an orgasm, not a Fabergé egg.”
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Head here for more from this year’s festival.