When it comes to the depiction of life over 50, Hollywood has provided the message again and again that men can hold exciting lives and still even be action stars, from James Bond to John Wick to Arnold Schwarzenegger, often alongside heroines decades younger than them. Yet for women, it’s been deemed profusely boring to be in one’s skin once you reach the middle ages. Now mind you, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is nothing like the aforementioned movies, but it is a rare (and grounded) approach to a woman in her second act of life, taking the lead and finally getting some action with a much younger gent opposite her.
In a somewhat of a Pretty Woman role-reversal, a widowed Nancy (Emma Thompson) hires an upscale, and strikingly handsome sex worker who goes by Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for a couple hours, but she suddenly doesn’t know how to go through with it. Her nerves take over and she tells him the whole thing “feels controversial all of a sudden.” Charming immediately with Thompson’s usual razor-sharp comedic timing and the soft and calming presence of McCormack by her side, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande gets realistic about how difficult it can be for a generation of women to become empowered in sex when its often been a subject of so much shame and restraint to own one’s power over finding pleasure in it.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande has a small, intimate feel to it that compliments its story.
The British comedy, which premiered at Sundance and will become available exclusively on Hulu, takes place entirely in the nondescript hotel room where Nancy meets Leo Grande after a life of routine and unsatisfying sex with one man throughout her life, her late husband, who died two years prior. Nancy is a school teacher who nervously scoffs at Leo’s question of “what her fantasy is” upon entering, responding anxiously that her expectation was simply the bare minimum of getting some. Yes, the comedy starts off incredibly awkward as Leo Grande attempts to set the mood and Nancy’s insecurities flood the air of the fancy hotel room. Not every single beat works, and sometimes it feels like a moment drags, but at its core, there’s a tightly focused perspective both on Nancy and Leo Grande.
And throughout the film by newcomer director Sophie Hyde, Leo Grande is an intimate and focused concept. In its simplicity, it feels like a two-hander play at times that, with its players rising to the weight in the film they must hold, and aside from a bit of confusing tension in the middle of the film, hold attention. The development of their characters and their growing dynamic keeps one on their toes, and its pacing remains thoughtful throughout.
Emma Thompson gives an especially great and vulnerable performance that is perfect for her usual charms.
Emma Thompson is often the best part of any movie she’s in, though often as the supporting role or right alongside another leading role. In 2021’s Cruella, she was the villain to Emma Stone’s wild turn to evil Disney royalty. Then there’s the classic example of Love, Actually, where she broke all our hearts during the massive ensemble holiday classic. In Leo Grande, it feels like a rare occasion for Thompson to fully take the stage and help say something meaningful and special, and in the comedy, she does just that. Aside from the actress literally baring it all physically, her performance itself matches this in vulnerability, and even bravery. If there’s one thing you take away from Leo Grande, it’s how on top of her game Thompson continues to be, and perhaps you’ll wonder how underutilized she’s also been in the past. But that’s certainly not all there is to take away from it.
With Nancy, Emma Thompson is able to dive into a storyline women of her caliber, age or really any for that matter have had the opportunity to express. What Leo Grande illustrates is unique because it’s just not a topic we’ve seen pulled apart the way this movie, and Katy Brand’s script, does that with a grounded and realness that feels rebellious to the typical Hollywood ideal.
Leo Grande is surprisingly sexy, and distinctively forwards the conversation around sex and body positivity.
Through Nancy’s character, there’s an expression of stigma that comes with asking for what one wants in sex, especially through the eyes of a middle-aged woman who came from a religious and slut-shaming background. But through her eyes comes the topic that not only speaks to her age or situation particularly, but one of women being taught to be ashamed of their bodies, their sex appeal and ability to ask for more, both in the bedroom and their larger visions in life.
The movie is not only about empowerment of Nancy either; it also has a sharp perspective for its sex worker, Leo Grande. Between Nancy attempting to get all fixed up and ready in the bathroom before things get hot and heavy, there’s also little moments focused on Leo as he fixes his shirt and position in bed. As the movie progresses, Leo is also given a full scale arc that shows attention to the complexities of sex workers and more realistic depictions of these people that also defies stereotypes. Leo Grande empowers its sex worker character just as much as his customer throughout its delicately handled story. With that, the way the unique dynamic of Nancy and Leo is approached is with authenticity rather than fantasy.
When it comes to the sex scenes and nudity in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, there’s a natural tension the movie builds that feels natural to the story and in complete service of it. And when Leo Grande gets sexual, it’s sensual and naturally seductive thanks to incredible chemistry, build up (foreplay if you will) and payoff. In other words, Leo Grande knows what it’s doing.