‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ Gives Emma Thompson Emotional Relief in a Coming-of-Age-With-Interest Story
Embracing all the stereotypes, “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a British sex comedy, meaning it has a lot of comedy and very little sex. Even oral gratification is performed with a stiff upper lip. But not the aural satisfaction. Any verbal tongue lashing from Emma Thompson, who plays Nancy Stokes, is an intellectually sensual experience, especially when there is someone to volley. Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) doesn’t even have to say anything, he could just stand there looking like he stepped out of a fashion magazine. But he gives as well as he gets.
Sophie Hyde’s feature motion picture has the atmosphere of an Off Broadway play. There are very few characters, fewer sets, and the acting feels live, occasionally unrehearsed on Nancy’s part, and hers is the character who practices her lines. Leo Grande doesn’t need to rehearse, a few flips around a barber pole after his morning coffee, and he is whoever he wants to be. He is a sexual saint. Leo Grande is a character who is chosen by the eloquent sex worker to sell a fantasy, whether it is sex, conversation, or roleplay. Some of his clients like it when he slips in for a wordless quickie, others like to be ignored as he pads around like a cat, some just want to be held, or seen. He sees.
The widowed Nancy spent her whole life invisible. She honestly believes there is nothing to see there. She was a slut-shaming religious education teacher who thinks her own children are boring, and has never had an orgasm. Not that she’s expecting one, even from four expensive two-hour sessions with an aesthetically perfect, young stranger. Nancy lowered her expectations considerably after a passionless 31-year marriage. Watching Thompson mimic the dead husband’s futilely furtive attempts at compensatory sex is worth the price of admission. “There are nuns out there with more sexual experience than me,” Nancy says as she breaks her most pressing needs down to a five-point, sex-position bucket list. But neurotic Nancy backpedals consistently, inching towards her own desires, and sprinting back to the safety of her own self-oppression. Her most ardent commands come out as apologetic questions, begging for attention she doesn’t believe they warrant.
Leo is her education, and Nancy wants to know everything. She wants to know why he doesn’t need a blue pill to be aroused by a middle-aged emotional recluse, and exactly how old was the oldest person he’d ever had sex with. Leo tells her that his mother thinks he works on an oil rig, and Nancy hungrily accepts it. He would say anything to set the mood. Nancy will hear whatever she needs to find an excuse to break it. Whether that means giving history lessons or taking a call from her daughter, always in a crisis, never a quick chat. But Nancy is the kind of person who can’t let a ringing phone go unanswered. She only puts her own calls on hold.
McCormack is subtle, bringing an almost therapeutic patience to the adventure, and he wants her to see it as an adventure. Nancy is the only woman in the world to the dashing Irishman who calls himself Leo Grande. His name is fake, but the experience is real, until the masks slip off. He doesn’t call himself an escort, possibly because they spend all their time in the same Norwich hotel room. He is a sex worker, a term he uses with a sense of self-awareness and utter comprehension. If he needs to break down an emotional wall just to kiss her neck, Leo has to love his job. He isn’t desperate. He’s not doing sex work to put himself through school. He’s a dreamboat Nancy can’t help but want to sink. London’s finest male escort is so confident and compassionate, Nancy searches for a leak. She would be happier if he were repugnant, so she crosses a line. Screenwriter Katy Brand lays out the words with skilled comic beats, and melancholic passing tones. Nancy needs more sex before she dies. She’s upset that self-denial and shame led to disappointments. Thompson gives a generous, intimate and refreshingly unapologetically nonjudgmental performance. Even when Leo’s patience cracks, McCormack is never anything less than happy to remain happy selling sex.
This isn’t a coming-of-middle-age-reversal “Pretty Woman,” but the ending is a happy one, as guaranteed by the service provider. The acts of which happen off-screen, or through the mirror of introspection. “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” isn’t afraid to look at itself, and find empirically attractive sexuality at any age.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” begins streaming June 17 on Hulu.