What to Watch Verdict
Thompson and McCormack are an unexpectedly charismatic duo in this refreshing take on a midlife crisis.
Thompson and McCormack both give moving performances
McCormack is a touch too underdeveloped
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a dramedy shot during the pandemic that demonstrates, with the right actors and the right story to tell, you don’t need much more than a stylish hotel room to make magic.
Written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a chamber play about Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) a 55-year-old widow who hires Leo Grande (Peaky Blinders’ Daryl McCormack), a stunningly attractive sex-worker, to explore her sexuality. Nancy’s had one sex partner, her deceased husband. Their bedplay was neither good nor fulfilling. She longs to be touched and have the kinds of sexual adventures she’s heard about but never experienced; even though she’s given up on ever achieving orgasm.
But Nancy is a high-strung, former ethics teacher who can barely settle her nerves enough to talk to the man her internet search led her to booking for the afternoon. Leo Grande enters with a calm sensuality and woos Nancy slowly, turning this unlikely rendezvous into an appealing series of meet-ups full of witty repartee, uncomfortable truths and sexual delight.
Don’t expect this duo to play coy about why they’ve come to this hotel room. Nancy may be bound up in patriarchal strings but she’s far from shy and retiring. And Leo is a sophisticated operator far too careful to ever play the coquettish boy toy. As Leo slowly coaxes Nancy into engaging with him, their awkward hellos and polite conversation morph into a meeting of the minds and ultimately the body. Just as you think this pair is settling into a steady arrangement, in her glee and arrogance, Nancy oversteps and blows up her cozy new arrangement.
What follows is a masterful exchange full of restrained fury and brittle vulnerability from both McCormack and Thompson. Every sigh, twitch of the eye, bodily flinch and outstretched hand fraught with meaning. Neither overshadowing the other but instead working as equals to fill the space even when they fall silent. But those final revelations between the two leave them standing on opposite sides of a seemingly insurmountable breach.
Thompson is a wonder as a woman slowly unbound. Her portrayal offers a glimpse at what it takes to learn to be honest with yourself and accept your part in how life’s disappointed you. McCormack plays a sex worker who’s carefully crafted image and persona are everything to him with compelling openness and striking sensuality. Their conversation is at turns an insightful take on sex work and a biting commentary on marital dissatisfaction, social restraint, parental disappointment and dreams not pursued.
Nancy undergoes a metamorphosis over the course of their engagements. The woman who emerges is a warmer, more relaxed Nancy learning to embrace her wants, needs and desires. A woman willing to own her mistakes.
With a deft hand and tight direction, Hyde directs Leo Grande using the judgments people make about sex workers and unspoken entitlement of those able to pay for their time to weave together a brilliant lesson on boundaries — the dangers of having too many as well as the consequences of breaching them without permission.
Thompson and McCormick carry the day with a chemistry that grows out of the same awkwardness that fuels the film’s best comedic and most tender moments. With a third act rife with emotion and a decidedly satisfying commentary on female pleasure, this story about connection, acceptance and transformation offers far more than a mere May-December sex romp.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now playing in UK theaters and streaming exclusively on Hulu in the US.
Ro is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film/tv critic, writer and host on several of the MTR Network's podcasts. She's a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society and the Online Association of Female Film Critics. She's a former culture columnist for San Diego CityBeat (may it rest in peace) with a serious addiction to genre fiction, horror and documentaries. You can find her sharing movie and book recs and random thoughts, on her podcast I Talk Sh!t and Read or in her newsletter, Shelf Envy.