/ 8 August 2022

One movie, two takes: Good luck to you, Leo Grande

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Laid bare: ‘Good luck to you, Leo Grande’ explores issues around sex and age.

It may be publicised as a sex comedy-drama, but the magic of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande lies in the movie’s fearless conversation and not, as the billing suggests, the horizontal tango.

Nancy Stokes, played by Emma Thompson, is in her mid-50s. She’s an uptight former religious-education teacher. Now a retired widow she, surprisingly, hires a sex worker with the goal of experiencing good sex.

Enter 20-something Leo Grande, played by Peaky Blinders alumnus Daryl McCormack. Smart and outrageously beautiful, Leo exudes comfort and control with his huge green eyes and lyrical Irish twang. He is playing a part and he is good at it — meeting his clients’ every want, being who they need him to be.

Nancy, on the other hand, is nervous and insecure. Her largely unfulfilled existence is marked by a tepid sex life — she’s never had an orgasm and is hoping to change that.

But what is meant to be one transactional romp between the unlikely duo leads to more paid-for sessions and Nancy’s creation of a real tick-box carnal bucket list. The elusive orgasm is part of her quest, prompting an exasperated Leo to say, “It’s an orgasm, not a Fabergé egg. People have them every day.”

The film’s play-like narrative focuses solely on Nancy and Leo and doesn’t shy away from societal taboos. The sharp dialogue unashamedly delves into age and generational differences. The idea that it’s never too late to engage in sex — or start relishing it — is a central theme. It makes you realise how seldom intimacy among older people is discussed.

The questions the movie raises about sex work are equally thought provoking. The oldest record dates to 2400BC in Babylonia, yet over 4 000 years later, society can’t seem to accept the gig is going nowhere anytime soon. Refreshingly sex-positive Leo proposes the profession should be a public service and I can’t help but think he is onto something. 

But it’s Nancy’s thoughts on ageing and a woman’s body that will resonate with many of us. As she bluntly points out her hairy chin and sagging boobs, you think, who hasn’t dealt with some sort of body issue and let it stand in the way of life’s joy? It’s refreshing to see a “regular” body on the screen and celebrate it. I adored Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. It is brave, entertaining and hopeful. The actors give show-stopping performances and the narrative and dialogue are near perfect. It’s beautiful in its realness and humanity and it might inspire many to go out there and really experience life, whatever our age.Jo Buitendach

There’s something discomforting about the fetishisation of a young black man, specifically by a much older white woman, given the history of that dynamic. However, this intimate drama does a stellar job at almost making you forget whatever prejudicial notions might arise as a result of its premise.

Nancy, a retired teacher and widow, played by Emma Thompson, has never had an orgasm. She’s looking for a liberating sexual experience and she’s landed on young sex worker Leo Grande (played by Daryl McCormack) for a shot at finally having one. This is a woman who has never taken her own pleasure seriously and the awkwardness of it all is palpable.

She’s mechanical in her approach, drawing up a list of things she would like to try. Leo, displaying a great deal of sex positivity, goes all out to assure her everything will be fine. “Nancy, we’re going to have fun,” he says.

The interaction between the two is like two worlds — old and new — colliding. It’s hard to ignore the power dynamics, and the movie tackles them with equanimity. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, while the film addresses everything from sex work as a profession deserving of respect, ageism surrounding sex, and the vulnerability of desire, race does not come up. This can either be read as something positive or a missed opportunity. To be fair, I’m not sure it would serve much of a purpose except to make what is otherwise a whimsical, often smile-inducing watch, a tad heavy.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a dialogue-heavy peek into the lives of its two main characters, laying bare their insecurities. In the case of Nancy, this is best exemplified by full-frontal shots that give an intimate portrait  of a woman who feels past her prime, intent on making up for lost time. It goes further to humanise Leo. Nancy, feeling vulnerable, pries into his personal life, perhaps as a way of maintaining her power. The result is unpleasant, taking what should be a transactional interaction to places it perhaps should not go.

Director Sophie Hyde, writer Katy Brand and the two actors deliver a masterclass in what can be achieved with very little more than a great script and outstanding acting. The principles of respect, boundaries and consent take centre stage in a film that shines a light on ageing and what it might look like for an older woman seeking to break free of social confines. It is an admirably subversive and quaint effort, delivering 97 very well-spent minutes. — Sandiso Ngubane