In almost every review or take of Sophie Hyde's ('Animals') 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande', you will see the word "brave" attached to the always excellent Emma Thompson ('Saving Mr Banks', 'Love Actually'). While expected and typical, this is by no means a reductive phrase, as it genuinely highlights not only what an impressive job Thompson does, but the importance attached to the release of this film.
Thompson plays Nancy, a retired religious studies teacher who’s never had an orgasm, which honestly anyone could probably have guessed from her demeanour. She’s only ever been with her husband but since being widowed two years ago, Nancy is tired of her unfulfilling married life, and wants what she believes everyone else has, pleasure. This task will be delegated to the strapping young sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack, 'Pixie') - not his real name, of course. Then again, Nancy is not her real name either. Taking place almost entirely in the hotel room over a few sessions, Nancy and Leo talk about life, try to break down the barriers of shame and, ultimately, strive to enjoy a night of fulfilled self-discovery and pleasure.
When we first meet Nancy, she is almost Hugh Grantesque in her awkward British manner. She rambles on about nonsense, can't look Leo directly in the eye, and seems completely overawed by the whole situation. Sure, she hired Leo and it’s all her idea, but embarrassment rears its ugly head as Nancy constantly tries to build walls around herself. For Leo, this is nothing new. He's had clients of all walks of life, even sharing that one of his clients pays him to sit in the corner and act like a cat for an hour. Is this the truth? We as an audience may never know, but it goes some way to showcase the professionalism of Leo - he really knows what he’s doing. In contrast to Nancy’s bumbling poshness, Leo is cool, calm, warm and, above all else, patient.
'GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE' TRAILER
Made in only 19 days, 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande' really is just two people in a room, and so while it can often feel "theatrical", it never for one second feels dull or stagnate. Boasting humour and a sometimes whimsical tone, the Australian director weaves her staging through the ebbs and flow of the conversations, often mimicking the rhythm and power dynamic shifts within the speech. It certainly puts a lot of notice onto the actors, but both Thompson and McCormack bring their A-game, a necessity in this environment. One can always expect Thompson to be at this level, but McCormack surprised me with how well he seemed to understand his character.
Leo is not an easy role, as McCormack is playing a sex worker, a character who’s hiding his real self. He perfectly navigates through Nancy’s shame and chips away at the walls of sex that are put up, and I believe quite proudly represents a positive voice for sex workers. Thompson’s challenges are not exactly a breeze, and watching this film gave me the impression that she has been waiting for a role like this for some time. She could not have done this ten years ago, and perhaps more to the point, a role like this would probably not have existed ten years ago. It asks so much of Thompson, and yet it’s so empowering to see her embrace the shame and body positivity angsts of Nancy, something that I know for a fact is felt universally.
Watching this film gave me the impression that Thompson has been waiting for a role like this for some time. She could not have done this ten years ago, and perhaps more to the point, a role like this would probably not have existed ten years ago.
Nancy hates her body, and although she doesn’t seem to mind at first that she has never had an orgasm, she’s ultimately ashamed. Thompson (literally) bares all, and hopes that this can all start a bigger conversation. People are constantly reminded of everything that is wrong with their bodies or what we should be aiming for, and it’s refreshingly liberating for Nancy as a character - and dare I say, perhaps Thompson as well. We just don’t see these things on screen nearly enough, and if we do, it’s rarely with woman of Thompson’s vintage.
The theme of body positivity is just one of the takeaways that we need to be talking about. Hyde and writer Katy Brand are pleading with audiences to look within and take part in said conversations. 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande' frames a lot of this in the context of pleasure, but equally integral to our self-fulfilled enlightenment is the importance of human connection, and the surprising places we might find it. This film wants audiences to leave with the confidence that not only is it okay to seek your pleasure, but it is encouraged and applauded.
I had a wonderful time with this film. I found it effortlessly charming with the right amount of comedy mixed in for good measure. It knows what it wants to say and puts that message front of centre, forcing the audience to listen and take on the challenges presented in the film. If ’Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ and Emma Thompson were indeed waiting for one another, then it was worth the wait.