The refreshingly honest and sex positive Good Luck to You, Leo Grande arrives at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival as a gorgeous showcase for Emma Thompson and a sterling introduction to the magnetic Daryl McCormack. The feature from director Sophie Hyde and screenwriter Katy Brand celebrates intimate connection and self-acceptance with a sharp wit and narrative that delves into refreshing themes centred on inhibitions, pleasure and sex work.
This intimate two-hander focusses on retired school teacher Nancy Stokes (Thompson) who organises a meeting with a young sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande (McCormack). Leo is drawn to the sexually inexperienced Nancy despite her self-doubt and insecurities regarding her age, whilst she is thrown by his intellect, charm, and caring nature. The two unlikely figures begin to challenge one another, attempting to dismantle preconceptions regarding sex and age – and while they are at it, tick a few new sexual adventures off Nancy’s list.
Brand’s background as a successful actress, comedy writer and stand-up, should mean it is no surprise that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is laced with a sharp comic wit. Much of this humour stems from Nancy’s all-business approach to sex – she’s terrified by the experience and has a ‘let’s get it over and done with’ frankness. Brand finds well-meaning humour in Nancy’s inexperience as she attempts to get to grips with new sexual experiences. She’s militantly organised (on her second meeting analytically bringing a checklist), whilst Leo brings a much more relaxed presence. The escort takes time to attempt to settle Nancy’s heightened anxiety with his charming reassurance and smooth presence.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, as well as providing a well-pitched humour, delves into numerous preconceptions regarding sex work and sexual inhibition. Using the narrative of a two-hander, the discussions between Nancy and Leo prompt some fascinating commentary on our relationship with sex and sex work. Nancy cannot fathom why Leo has chosen this career, with the young Irishman reiterating this is what he wants to do and that he is not being forced into this position. Delivering well-constructed musings on the role of sex work as a service for those in need, there is a sense of elevated conversation to this sparky piece. Similarly effective mediations on female sexuality provide plenty of food for thought, with Leo attempting unlock the sixty-something Nancy’s inhibitions regarding her age, body image and sexuality. Nancy continually flames the fires of self-doubt and takes a pessimistic approach when talking about herself and there is an uplifting quality to Good Luck to You, Leo Grande as it showcases Leo attempting to break down these self-destructive thoughts that plague his client.
Filmed with a beautiful sense of intimacy, Director of Photography Bryan Mason captures striking close-ups of moments of touch and connection. The linking of Leo and Nancy’s hands, a close-up kiss on the neck, or the comforting placement of a hand on a shoulder – Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a striking and very sexy film. The predominant filming location of a discreet yet somewhat plush hotel room adds to the sense of realism that prevails throughout the feature – only ever showcasing us Leo and Nancy in this place which becomes their space to challenge one another.
Split into the pair’s three meetings, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande injects a darker sense of conflict in the latter act by exploring the boundaries of privacy, which come with the territory of sex work, being crossed by Nancy’s newfound heady sense of empowerment. This narrative direction and its subsequent reconciliation make the final moments of Hyde’s film all the more satisfying and tender.
Thompson packs the role with guts and intelligence, nailing the role of the repressed woman reconnecting with her mind, body and own sense of identity. She brings her expected wit and natural charisma to the fold in spades whilst also allowing us to fully connect with the multi-faceted role emotionally. McCormack makes a tremendously charismatic sparring partner with an arc that showcases the initially calm and smooth charmer re-evaluating his self-identity and respective insecurities. There is a real sign of this being a star making performance from McCormack and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him everywhere in the coming years.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a warm and emotionally intelligent picture that tackles its themes of sex and self with an unwavering honesty. Sparky performances from Thompson and McCormack help this excel, whilst Brand’s narrative keeps us amused and challenged throughout.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande plays as part of the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Find out more details here.