There are romantic comedies whose sole purpose is to charm. To tease a smile out of their viewers and give them a good time. Or, those that sweep viewers off their feet with ‘meet cutes’ and ‘first kiss’ plots. At first glance, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, seems to be that kind of film. A comedy and romance mixed like a delicate, sweet cocktail. And sure, this is that. But it’s also more, thankfully so. It’s a film that slowly weaves its way into the heart while anchoring itself in very real issues of interpersonal relationships. Connections that extend past finding the proverbial “one,” and in the case of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, into broader topics of gender, age, and sex. Of a scenario where two people meet in the most unusual set of circumstances, and end up uncovering who they are to each other and the world around them.
A young escort and a widow walk into a hotel room, and it’s not the start of a bad joke. An unlikely pair by any means, and that’s the point. Played by powerhouse performer Emma Thompson, 55-year-old widow Nancy hires an escort, played by charming Daryl McCormack, in hopes of finding sexual fulfillment after 30 years of a sexless marriage and sexual repression. Directed by Sophie Hyde, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is the awakening of female desire. It’s the dismantling of the sexual repression of older women through this surprising, poignant comedy. Emma Thompson gives one of her best performances in recent memory as a woman on the verge of her first orgasm, quite literally. Baring herself, quite literally, to the camera in ways older female characters aren’t given the option to. It’s raw, honest, and funny in ways that transcend even the romcom genre.
Something Hyde does well is letting the camera sit on Thompson for several beats as her character unveils secret after secret, kept so well inside of her. Secrets that would seem shocking only because they come from someone her age. Nancy’s “lived” life according to our perceptions of aging. Married for 30 years, had two children, and worked as a Teacher. What else is there? She’s still very much alive, and Hyde’s film makes sure you don’t forget that. There’s a slight air of indignation when Thompson’s character Nancy reveals that in all her years of living, she’s never had an orgasm. Then, there’s sadness. Sadness at the way society seems to squeeze female desire into the smallest compartments available until it begins to leak around it. And when it does, it’s women themselves who are asked to clean up the mess.
Despite the flippant and very British deadpan way in which Nancy confesses all of this to McCormack’s very fascinated Leo, it’s cloaked in shame and sadness. Shame that she’s even forced to say all of this out loud and a sadness that Nancy never felt comfortable with to voice to her husband. Made to feel “randy” for it. That asking for it is somehow demeaning, which is how she first views this entire exchange between herself and Leo. And yet, she knows it’s not. Watching Thompson have what appear to be self monologues is somehow giving a voice to older women. To women who are made to feel dispensable. Easily discarded much like Leo felt by his own mother. There’s a fascinating line of comparison the film attempts to dissect that it could’ve spent more time on and that’s the way older bodies, and bodies used as a commodity are so easily discarded by our culture and society.
Our perceptions of sexuality and age have long been topics of conversation in media. However, it feels that with this film, it’s the first time the discussion is had by someone older instead of just being the focus of it. Thompson’s character spends most of the film bearing her soul not just to McCormack’s Leo but to the audience. To an audience that has only known youth as the center of desire until now. The history of film centers around the toned, youthful bodies simulating sex on screen. It’s all the more refreshing to see Thompson’s final shot like that of a literal reveal of Nancy’s body in front of a mirror. Bared to herself and to a world that’s hyper-fixated on vanity and youth.
There’s exquisite banter and chemistry between Thompson and McCormack that’s beyond the sexual. With ease, their characters draw emotionally closer as they shed their prejudices towards each other, especially Nancy’s. McCormack’s Leo is a kaleidoscope of emotions and textures. He can be sinfully sensual in one scene and heartbreakingly vulnerable in the next. As Nancy reveals parts of herself to him, so does he. Unwilling, at first, but slowly letting her in. It wasn’t about romantic love but the act of care that drew Leo to Nancy, and confess things he otherwise wouldn’t with any other client. Like the fact that his mother doesn’t accept him. Not completely. Even before he became a sex worker, his mother never took the time to understand who Leo was. Not the honest Leo anyways.
It’s important to mention that Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, is about human connection, as are most films. However, it’s also about the most unsuspecting relationships we make in our everyday lives. The people we meet serendipitously, who also matter and who we should foster better and more frequent connections with. Bridging cultural and age gaps only serve to push us further away from one another. It doesn’t take a pandemic to make us feel disconnected from each other. It’s also a film not afraid of physical and emotional scars. The ones that are there with age, and the ones that stay in our souls. Hyde created magic with this film, along with Katy Brand’s clever script. – Mariana Delgado
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is pending a wide release date. For more Sundance 2022 coverage, keep an eye on our Twitter page and this site!