Two actors, one hotel room, and a blunt story about a senior citizen’s sexual awakening: there’s a lot going on in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” director Sophie Hyde‘s complex, dialogue-heavy, taboo-busting film about the desire for pleasure and human connection. It’s a different type of story to see onscreen, and it’s more refreshing than awkward, for the most part. The older you are and the more comfortable you are in your own skin, the less uncomfortable you will be with this movie.
Retired teacher Nancy (Emma Thompson), recently widowed, has never experienced true happiness in the bedroom. Looking to make up for lost time and all those unfulfilled nights, she hires professional sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for the night. Leo is young, handsome, and seemingly perfect in every way. He’s patient and kind, with a calm demeanor and charm that puts Nancy at ease — eventually.
Katy Brand‘s script is raw and authentic, with an extremely accurate insight into women as a whole. Everything about Nancy seems and feels very real, especially considering her age and background. She says all the things most women would be thinking if they’d put themselves in a similar situation.
At her initial meeting with Leo, Nancy is conflicted. She changes her mind every 10 seconds, unable to gain the courage to go through with much of anything. When it comes to their second meeting, however, Nancy has gained a confidence that’s enviable (she even comes prepared with a lengthy “to-do” list).
The film is mostly set in the confines of one hotel room with just two characters, relying heavily on dialogue (and chemistry). Thompson and McCormack are terrific and natural together, which helps keep things interesting when the story begins to slip. Be aware that this is more of an emotionally intense drama than a comedy, especially when boundaries and crossed and the pair’s business arrangement falls apart. That’s when their true life histories are revealed, and decades of regret, loss, sadness, and unfulfilled desires and dreams are exposed.
A lot will be said about a film that so brazenly explores an older woman’s sexuality in a way that’s frank and explicit, both verbally and visually. Many will see Thompson’s untouched nude scenes as brave or daring, especially for the 63 year old actor. But doesn’t that speak to the exact societal expectations the film is trying to shatter?
Older women (and younger ones, for that matter) are told that we aren’t supposed to be happy with our bodies, that we are always too fat or too imperfect. Some go through life believing they are undeserving of pleasure, spending years miserable and repressed. It’s a bit sad that a woman over 60 baring all in a feature film could be viewed as shocking, yet here we are. How refreshing it would be if that wasn’t the case. Maybe instead of the conversation being about how courageous Thompson is, perhaps we should be asking why it feels so strange to see a big screen story about senior sexuality.
There’s so much to admire about this journey of self-discovery and newfound intimacy for two very distinct characters, and “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” feels largely fresh and different. It’s a bit disappointing, however, how cliché-driven parts of it are, including the stale themes of letting go of oppressive hang-ups and learning to just be yourself. The ending is a true letdown, but there’s still something that feels so good about a woman mastering the ability to be confident in her own skin.