REVIEW: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande [2022]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 97 minutes
    Release Date: June 17th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: Searchlight Pictures / Hulu
    Director(s): Sophie Hyde
    Writer(s): Katy Brand

So, what is your fantasy?

Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) anxiously awaits her guest, fussing about her clothes and drinking champagne to ease her nerves. Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) finishes his coffee, smiling at the baristas as he waves goodbye before heading to the hotel. He knocks at the door. She startles, walking to it before lingering so long at the peep hole that he begins to bend to try and look back. Beyond their obvious age difference, this disparity of emotional and psychological calm is what’s most present when they meet. Leo’s confident stare and suave maneuverings are of a man who knows what he’s doing and does them with open eyes. Nancy’s inability to stay still or risk any sort of comfort reveals her deep-seated fear that pleasure isn’t hers to have.

Screenwriter Katy Brand and director Sophie Hyde wield generational stereotypes to provide Good Luck to You, Leo Grande an endearing collision between sexual frustration and liberation with Nancy being a woman of an era where women were told their place. She followed the rules, bought the conservative repression of desire dictating her existence, and never allowed herself the opportunity to find her own voice to agree with it let alone rebel against it. If not for the death of her husband—the only person she was ever with intimately—she would probably still be languishing at home, staring blankly at a present that was never thought of as anything but “dream” living. It’s the quiet freedom and uncertainty that gives her pause to finally wonder aloud, “What if?”

That’s where Leo comes in. He’s the young, fit sex worker she’s commissioned to give her that which she’s never had. Not an orgasm (although she admits one has forever eluded her), but satisfaction of any kind. She’s never touched a muscled chest. She’s never been asked about her wants or needs. She’s never given or received oral sex. Nancy has lived as though in a haze for decades, sleepwalking through a society that was awakening around her in such a way that she involuntarily became another enemy towards progress. The shame she felt towards sex became something she would teach. She’d embraced it so wholly that she inevitably raised a boring child who listened and pushed away a daughter who refused. She now finds herself utterly alone.

So, she overcompensates. The teacher in her creates a list of those (not so lewd) sexual acts that she’s never experienced and hires a professional to help her cross them off. It makes pragmatic sense until she’s standing face to face with this stranger who’s about to see her at her most vulnerable—something not even her husband saw considering she was never allowed to be an autonomous person around him. No wonder Nancy can’t stop stammering or being avoidant or attempting to quit whenever Leo gets too close. Because this is about more than just physicality or lust. This is about self-esteem and body positivity. She wants to feel these experiences as she “should” have felt them thirty years ago. And Leo is graciously willing to comply.

Does him being a Ken doll with the patience and sensitivity to say and do every perfect thing at every perfect time seem disingenuous and fantastical? Sure. But Hyde and Brand aren’t providing us a slice-of-slice piece of cinéma vérité here. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is more akin to a theatrical play with two main players and a single setting where they can create a dialogue that’s intentionally measured to allow its message to come across. These are purposefully heightened caricatures gradually breaking down their defenses while talking about real political issues in an open and honest bid for education. Nancy isn’t using Leo as an object. After so many years imparting wisdom upon her students, she’s ready to receive some herself. She’s ready to evolve.

It’s a very cute progression as their first encounter’s awkwardness makes way for the second’s emboldened courage. In some regards Leo becomes an object of the filmmakers even if he’s not an object to Nancy, but we glean subtle clues of internal conflict within him preparing to be released too. This arrives with the third meeting thanks to a blurring of lines that’s ultimately handled quite well in its complexity. Hyde and Brand are dealing with issues of consent on levels that go beyond the physical realm and into mankind’s mental/emotional sector since none of this is actually “real.” What happens on-screen in this room is a fantasy despite whatever real work is being done within its constraints. Nancy removes her public persona as Leo puts his on.

That’s the line that makes people hate sex work. They don’t want to believe that sex is a tool beyond procreation or even love. They’d rather sleepwalk through life like Nancy did, slut-shaming young people who dare to have fun, because they resent the fact that they’ve followed a patriarchal doctrine written for control. And if sex is just an unpleasant and impersonal marital obligation to you, of course you’d be bitter towards those who’ve let hedonism rule them. Nancy’s awakening can’t help being reductive as a result—like a flipped switch. But it’s also pure and innocent and confusing and dangerous. Leo opens her eyes, but perhaps too fast. It triggers his shame in the process and shows how change isn’t so simple. Trust is still key.

Despite the humor and charm of those first two meetings, this film excels during the third and fourth. Because true progress is about more than experience. It’s also about empathy. Accepting something because you suddenly want it too isn’t the same as comprehending the intricacies of what that thing is. As Leo says, “We all want something different.” And we perform to acquire those wants because being ourselves remains taboo no matter how much we hope it doesn’t. Just as Nancy needs Leo to confirm her yearning, so too does he need her to confirm his. Thompson and McCormack buy into this shared longing to be desirable as it uniquely manifests through their respective characters. While our futures can’t erase our pasts, they can help us process them.

[1] Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in the film GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
[2] Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in the film GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
[3] Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in the film GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

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