Director: Sophie Hyde
Writer: Katy Brand
Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack
Nancy Stokes is a retired school teacher whose husband died two years ago. She has two grown children: a son that she finds boring and a daughter who finds her cold. Her late husband is the only man she has ever had sex with and she’s concerned about being able to pursue anything because of her age. But she wants to experience intimacy because Nancy has never had an orgasm.
Enter Leo Grande. The stunningly handsome Irish sex worker is part Adonis, part therapist. His soothing nature makes him the perfect match for a woman like Nancy whose nerves threaten to overwhelm her at any moment. But can he help her overcome her fears and fulfill her fantasies of having…decent sex?
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, but is now coming to Hulu. Katy Brand’s screenplay is funny, but moving and creates two nuanced and complex characters. The film is almost entirely a two-hander, with Sophie Hyde directing detailed and layered performances by Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack.
Most of the film is comprised of a series of meetings in a posh hotel room between the two. Nancy hopes to have the sort of sex that she didn’t experience in her marriage, but she’s endearingly nervous. With two lesser actors, this could begin to seem repetitive or boring, but Thompson and McCormack have excellent chemistry that ensures it remains engaging.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is largely a film of two people in a room talking. One might easily think that it was adapted from a play, rather than an original screenplay, and it would be fascinating to see it brought to the stage one day. It may not have much action, but it has a compact length of one hour and 47 minutes, so it doesn’t exhaust its premise too early.
Nancy has a lot to work through from her fears around being more sexually adventurous to letting go of her control issues. It’s obviously a premise that lends itself to emotional scenes and Thompson is able to deliver beautifully. She’s the kind of actress who can make any material worth watching and the perfect casting for the role of Nancy.
McCormack does an excellent job of crafting the persona of Leo Grande, but providing glimpses through to the man behind the illusion. As the film progresses, it becomes more clear that Leo is a front that has been created for the purposes of his work and perhaps not an accurate reflection of the person underneath. It’s a tricky role to play and McCormack is able to win the audience’s favor, while also maintaining a bit of mystery to be unraveled.
The film could have provided a more nuanced look at sex work, as it mostly focuses on Nancy’s somewhat old-fashioned views on sex workers. She’s very uncomfortable with Leo being a sex worker, even asking him, “You don’t feel degraded?” He answers, “Not at all, you haven’t bought me. You bought my service.” However, the film never gives a significant look into Leo’s feelings on his work. Still, it’s an improvement on a movie like Pretty Woman.
For a film about intimacy, there is actually surprisingly little sex (though plenty of talk about it), as Nancy takes a lot of time to unlearn her sexual repression. The conflict truly comes as Nancy starts to push the boundaries of their agreement, becoming more comfortable with emotional intimacy, and seeking to know more about Leo’s life outside of their hotel room.
Thompson and McCormack are fantastic enough in their own right and together that it would be interesting to watch them read the phone book in a hotel room for that amount of time. But Good Luck to You, Leo Grande packs in an exploration of self-confidence and physical and emotional intimacy that will stick with you for some time. It may not be a standout from a technical perspective, but the strong screenplay and performances make it one of the strongest films of the year thus far.
Nicole Ackman is a Public History graduate student at NC State University and a film, television, and theatre critic. She is Rotten Tomatoes and Cherry Picks approved and is a member of the NCFCA and OAFFC. You can find her on Twitter, probably talking about period dramas or Andrew Garfield, at @nicoleackman16.