“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”–Full Exposure
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, (Hulu, released on June 17), a two-actor comedic drama set in a hotel room, tells their story while having sex. There’s nothing fussy, nothing to distract. Human interaction of the most intimate kind–emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and sensually– is the main theme here.
Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a sixty-three year old, recent widow, has never had an orgasm in her 31-year marriage. Fearing that this may be her last chance to find out what she has been missing, she hires a young 24-year-old male sex worker, Leo Grande. Nancy is both determined and frightened of what may happen.
Leo Grande (absolutely astounding Daryl McCormack) appears at the door–a golden fantasy of male beauty, but so kind and open, funny, and confident, that the expected sex-comedy of over-the-top ludicrous one-liners or cheap laughs never occurs. Instead, the viewer is a witness–not a voyeur–to four “meetings”. With beautiful, tender moments of intimacy–both psychological and physical–we watch almost unbearable feelings between Nancy and Leo as they listen, look, and react to each other.
Nancy is a retired religious studies teacher who had controlled and lectured teenage girls on sex, but who whip-saws privately with unhappiness and insecurity. As both a mother and a wife, she has felt joyless and alienated from her feelings. Leo meets her without guise or artifice–wherever she’s at in the moment. It is part of his job as a sex worker, a profession he has freely chosen and takes great pride in. What he does is provide comfort to the women who engage his services. For one 82-year old woman, he gets into the bathtub and bathes her. Most importantly, Leo does not judge.
Nancy blurts out that she’s never had an orgasm, only faked one. She has created a list of five sex acts she’d like to experience for the first time but is shy about asking. Leo doesn’t push her or insist that she does anything she doesn’t want to, reassuring her that none of her desires are problems. Instead, he asks her questions about her past sexual experiences, a conversation she probably has never had, not even with herself. Pouring out her heart, words tumbling out, the effect is both vulnerable and comical, revealing the situation of women in relation to their own bodies and sexuality. The writing is brilliant!
Charm can’t be pushed. Neither can chemistry. Without these ineffable yet essential qualities Good Luck to You, Leo Grande could not be as mesmerizing as it is. Every moment filmed depends upon feeling, the way the actors look and touch each other, how they listen, and how and why they react. The performances more than pay off, often in unexpected ways. The bar is set extremely high. And Good Luck is risky and groundbreaking.
In a powerfully sensuous scene in which Nancy dances with Leo, we see the awakening. The exquisite Adonis-like Leo has his arms around her, dancing, swaying with his eyes closed while Nancy ‘s face organically releases the sexual and intimate feelings she might have had in a different marriage. What surprises–even delights this viewer–is the refreshing take on a sixty-something woman. There is a tingling, trembling sense of a new beginning, a new rebirth–looking forward instead of behind to what could have been.
The audience gets to follow along as this Everywoman — she could have been your teacher, your mother, your sister, you — courageously crosses every boundary she can imagine, in a rebellious act taking great courage. In one early scene Nancy begins to sob. Sex has always been associated with disappointment and loss, and what will she discover with Leo?
Good Luck reveals fascinating philosophical and psychological territory in terms of intimacy, aging, and the importance of sexual pleasure, whether it’s with yourself or with someone else. And that sex is fun and empowering.
Nancy thinks she has hired Leo to have sex. She doesn’t realize all that sex implies: the focus is on pleasure, whatever pleasure even means. That her pleasure is connected to her spiritual wellbeing is evident. And it is Leo who somehow manages to unlock himself and his women clients, peeling back layers beneath his exterior charm.
Newcomer Daryl McCormack is unbelievable. He seamlessly handles the troubled aspects of his backstory, the parallel with his character’s family and Nancy’s. This is not only a tribute to the screenwriting, but also to McCormack’s performance and the rhythmic dynamic he has with Thompson. Together they personify the experience of intimacy, as not exclusively sexual, but as human fulfillment, joy, and catharsis. Their respectful, sometimes hesitant, ventures into long, looping conversations become their foreplay.
And what more can be said about the sublime Emma Thompson whose impeccable career can now include this emotionally wrought tour-de-force? She’s looking at herself, but she’s looking at all of us. It is a neutral gaze, a gaze of acceptance.
An unexpected charmer with deep philosophical and psychological overtones, spiced with raw and humorous zest! Cannot recommend this movie highly enough! Such a winner!
Availability: Hulu streaming