Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a two-hander involving a retired schoolteacher unable to her achieve her own happiness and a sex worker she’s hired to help her experience a fraction of it. That, my friend, is all the premise you need for a movie.
Emma Thompson is the teacher, Nancy Stokes, and the suave Daryl McCormack is Leo Grande, the hired hand (and body) for the night. The two meet in a cozy hotel-room. Upon entry, Leo can tell Nancy is nervous. Her husband passed away two years ago, and she confesses to him early on that she’s never had an orgasm. The first of their four meetings is spent with a lot of apprehension on Nancy’s behalf. This is by far the most taboo thing she’s ever committed to in her rule-abiding life. Contrarily, Leo isn’t put off by her age, her looks, or anything related to the situation. He’s kind and gentle, and enjoys the conversational part of his job as much (or more) than the physical part.
The ensuing meetings all have their own rhythm. On subsequent ones, naturally Nancy is a little more open and relaxed. But even with added comfort still comes the occasional awkward silence, reprieve, confrontation, and forced communication that typically arises during a transactional relationship of this nature. Nancy is ashamed of her own body and her own prudishness; like emotions, per usual, things don’t come always unfold in a streamlined manner.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande puts a lot of weight on Thompson and McCormack, who are both up to the challenge of carrying a talky, single-location film. Thompson is both funny and heartbreaking depending on the observation she makes about herself or how she honestly feels about her two grown children. Screenwriter Katy Brand writes McCormack’s Leo Grande nobly. The way he cares about and for an older client of his is touching. He’s aware that at Nancy’s age, sex after the death of a spouse (and in general) is a minefield of baggage — and navigating that is tricky.
Which makes it somewhat frustrating that Sophie Hyde’s film feels as neat and manicured as it does. Even in some of its ugly moments, everything is just too pretty; to the point of feeling false. The hotel-room, the camera angles, and the characters’ makeup all beautifies things to a degree where even this realistic scenario can’t help but feel faintly unrealistic.
Also undermining an ultimately progressive portrayal of sex work is the fact that McCormack’s character harbors the typical family drama and abandonment issues; the blanket-statement stereotypes insisted upon countless sex workers. Sure, many are outspoken on their own personal plights, but for a movie grounded in intense realism, revolving largely around an older woman’s very real trepidations about her own body and sexual experiences, it would’ve been nice for her evening plus-one not to be so archetypal.
All that said, it’s easy to look past some of the flaws when you zero-in on Thompson and McCormack, who at the end of the day, have slowburn chemistry and some instances of pointed dialog. One strong scene comes during their second meeting, when Nancy now has a list of sex-acts she’s willing to try. Leo is impressed by her newfound openness, but he reminds her that she’s taking a hardened, practical approach to something that should be passionate and in-the-moment. Nancy can’t help it. It’s what she’s done her entire life. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is worth it for some beautiful moments like that.
NOTE: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now streaming on Hulu.
Starring: Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack. Directed by: Sophie Hyde.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!