New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: MOVIE REVIEW: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE— 5 STARS

Playing like an intimate single-set stage production, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is built on the comfort and discomfort that come from conversation. The romantic circumstances that bring the two main characters of this film together color its tone and move the sliding scale of easement. Who and what they are skew all that further until you see the progress of their talks. Sultry moments become whimsical as the various descriptive traits and loaded labels melt away to reveal two well-meaning humans looking to find or be their best selves through each other.

You see, for some prissy viewers of Sophie Hyde’s stellar film, the dealbreakers lie in the who and what. The headlining Emma Thompson is a widow named Nancy waiting in a posh Norwich hotel. The handsome and much younger man played by Daryl McCormack of Peaky Blinders that arrives to meet her is Leo, her paid escort. With a sweet kiss on the cheek introduction and an eloquently delivered plaudit of sexiness, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande girds its loins to hold you in this very room for whatever transpires next.

Where some viewers will immediately implode with pearl-clutching outrage hellbent on voicing warped decency and unfair determinations, others will be ignited by the possibilities of this premise and the talent involved. Alas, once again, the key of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande remains the rich conversation. More viral potency comes from the shared verbal exchanges than any “afternoon delight.”

LESSON #1: ASKING ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS– The thing is Nancy might as well be one of those pearl-clutchers. She planned this for months and has pushed her threshold of emptiness to this “moment of madness” of meeting Leo. Dismissing herself at one point as “a seedy old pervert,” Nancy arrives at this crucial event asking all the wrong questions with a beyond-palpable nervous dither. She carries on and on to reveal her painful, repressed, and unfulfilled sexual history. Her default state is one of harsh self-judgment and a constant anxiety fixated on disappointment.

LESSON #2: ASKING ALL THE RIGHT QUESTIONS– Sipping the same champagne and committed to the shared time is the undeterred Leo. He receives every bluntly delivered inquiry from Nancy and returns a disarming volley of calming consideration and uplifting questions of his own to assuage her panic and lift the mood. Leo is well-versed with both diffusing taboos and creating a curated fantasy with careful focus centered on patiently listening to the cues and needs revealed by the present customer. He’s a considerate smoothie of the highest order.

LESSON #3: CONVERSATION MAKES GREAT FOREPLAY– Would it be easier to see dominance from a character that rips clothes off and delivers unbridled passion? Sure, but that type of inspiration and eroticism is fleeting. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande presents several appointments between Nancy and Leo, each with escalating carnal goals as well as tighter bonds of mutual understanding. Over and over, the buoyant and poignant banter is the best and most effective aphrodisiac. 

The two actors could not have played these challenging character positions any better for Animals director Sophia Hyde. Few actresses on the planet could convincingly portray the genuine frazzle Thompson conveys. It goes further than the basic compliments of “brave” and “soul-baring” due to the sexual nature of the role for a woman her age. The evolved morality is the truer accomplishment. Through Thompson’s increasing glow, you can feel the sadness-tinged difficulty of every baited breath and the heartfelt little flickers of renewing confidence that arrive to boost her character. We know the beautiful butterfly is there and it was up to Emma to make it a sincere reality.

Likewise, Daryl McCormack is a stunning revelation radiating across from Thompson. Never is he merely a play-thing or a toy. It would have been very easy for writer Katy Brand, penning her debut feature screenplay, to paint the Leo character as a himbo there for his buff bod, where a Woody Allen-level of constant blather of Thompson has to do all the work. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande captivates you when McCormack is sharing Leo’s confident retorts and honest personal experiences. The way he says “Nancy…” to stop her rants is exceedingly adorable. His character may be labeled as a “sex saint,” a playful and sexy oxymoron all its own, but any actor who can render Thompson speechless in more ways than one deserves a heap of praise.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande earns bottomless empathy for presenting a pragmatic situation of sexual exploration with far more to say than horny dirty talk before the deed and victorious pillow talk after. Welcome comedy is readily available, but this is no mere sex farce of impossibly convenient conditions for casual conquest. Flaws and fears are frankly divulged. Hyde and Brand use this microcosm to build serious pillars for two central societal issues that should not be demeaned or degraded at any level in a modern society anymore. Brand’s thesis  line of “Pleasure is a wonderful thing, and it’s something that we should all have” leads that charge.

LESSON #4: THE NECESSITY FOR SEX WORKERS– Among those exchanged questions between Nancy and Leo is the “why do it” probe (for both him and her) and wondering where is the wrong. Nancy, a retired religious education teacher no less, ponders seeking the attention and company long lost to her and sees this route as the cleanest and safest way to find it. Leo presents himself as providing a helpful service with a different kind of bedside manner in all the lovely ways that does not constantly, as per too many stereotypes, end in the darkest imagined outcomes of a downward spiral or tawdry depravity. His work is never without risk, judgment, broken boundaries, and damning shame, and the movie reminds us of those while promoting the need to legalize what is wrongly misunderstood. 

LESSON #5: WHAT SEXUAL FULFILLMENT DOES FOR YOU– No less valid is the instinctual human need to feel sexually fulfilled posed by Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. As the film expresses, “desires are never mundane,” and the quest for it is “not an ordeal” and “not compulsory.” Pleasure is powerful as much as it is wonderful. The drive to still engage in sensuality and want it all the way to orgasm is a healthy ambition and should not carry the shame it does from external expectations, especially for women. Moreover, the yearning to still feel beautiful through the experience should be as essential as the consummation itself. If all you see is sin, this isn’t the movie for you playing on Hulu.

 Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in the film GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

 Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in the film GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved


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