Directed by Sophie Hyde. Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack, Isabella Laughland, Charlotte Ware, Carina Lopes. 15.97 minutes.
“I want to suck off,” announces Emma Thompson’s Nancy Good luck to you Leo Grande. “Fix that.” She slurs these words as if reminding herself to change the oil in her car – mechanically, even a little testy. Nancy’s husband died two years ago. He was the only man she’d ever had sex with, and none of it was particularly good. All missionary. She has never had an orgasm and doesn’t expect to anytime soon. But there’s a laundry list of sexual activities she has to work through like they’re mandatory steps to earn her femininity badge. So she hires a sex worker who calls himself Leo Grande.
As a lion (Peaky Blinders‘s Daryl McCormack) describes Nigella Lawson as “sexy” with no empty words (“…for her age”), Nancy is stunned. Who the hell is this guy? Which Jackie Collins novel did he and his perfect abs just come out of? Good luck to you Leo Grande could easily have been packaged as a feel-good feminist power anthem that privileges personal liberation above all else. But screenwriter Katy Brand, a regular on the British comedy scene, hasn’t settled for simple sentiments. Empowerment is just one piece of the puzzle that comes together to create a refreshingly nuanced portrait of sex work, pleasure, and self-understanding.
Nancy, a retired religion teacher, describes how she used to ask her students the essay question “Should sex work be legalized?” They always answered the same thing: “Although the moral issues remain up for debate, legalizing sex work would ultimately provide protections for sex workers and help eradicate human trafficking and abuse.” We believe Nancy shares this view.
But while this answer is morally sound, there is a certain emotional detachment. Sex work, even among the progressive-minded, is still treated as something to keep out of sight and out of mind. Those who seek it are given overwhelmingly little freedom of choice. And so, faced with Leo’s slight confidence, Nancy immediately launches into a full-blown interrogation: Is he an orphan? Was it traded? When was the last time he saw his mother? Is she taking advantage of him? She urges Leo to shed the veil of anonymity so vital to his work – both of course using false names – just to gratify her own conscience.
Sophie Hyde, whose directorial work 2019 Animals tackled toxic friendships with equal skill, makes the most of the film’s set location. We are restricted to Nancy’s hotel rooms only, apart from a brief stop at a cafe and the hotel bar. The place is sterile but elegant, as is the case with mid-range hotels. These characters really have nowhere to run. Nothing to distract her from the stark truth of what brought her here, either.
Thompson has always done, and amazed like no one else Good luck to you Leo Grande is no different. But less expected of the actress is the harshness that creeps into her voice at certain moments. Who exactly is this woman in front of this room? Beyond this conversation? We have to wonder. McCormack, on the other hand, does a great job playing essentially two characters: the confident and chivalrous Leo Grande and the man who lives behind him. Only the smallest insights are offered to us. “I made him and I’m proud of him,” he says of Leo. Hyde’s film is generous in that way – he understands he deserves to feel as good as Nancy does.
Good Luck Leo Grande hits theaters Friday, June 17
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/good-luck-to-you-leo-grande-review-emma-thompson-b2100756.html Good luck, Leo Grande Review: Emma Thompson hires a gigolo in this sweet, nuanced comedy