Let’s talk about sex, baby! Salt-N-Pepa basically nailed it as far as Emma Thompson is concerned. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande goes into the tricky nature of carnal desire, pleasure, and its tricky entanglements with emotions, personal experiences, and societal norms. You know a movie is special when you’re more riveted by people talking instead of fucking: emotional connections are rarer and more memorable.
In a nondescript hotel room in the UK, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) nervously goes about her business. She gets even more nervous, but equally excited, when Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) saunters in, hunky and gorgeous. A sex worker, Leo is there to fulfill a fantasy of Nancy’s, and her fantasy becomes more possible as Nancy’s nervous defenses come down as the two learn more about each other.
That’s it, basically a play: two people talking in hotel rooms. But the most romantic movie of all time, Before Sunrise, is built on the same foundation as Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is. Katy Brand’s screenplay is maybe the biggest star here. Many movies about sex get right to the act itself, giving the audience what they paid for: hot celebrities hooking up with one another. Good Luck To You takes the bolder approach of legitimately discussing the mechanics of having sex. How does one get turned on? What barriers have to be broken to achieve orgasm? Are sexual and emotional desires the same thing? Do they inevitably co mingle with one another? How are boundaries established? I haven’t witnessed conversations like that since the 1967 French film Belle De Jour.; 55 years later we’re overdue for an update, yikes. Thankfully, Katy Brandt and her stars have really thought through the dialogue, with the movie peeling away layers of emotional protection/deflection little by little to get to the raw, juicy emotional conversations we frankly don’t see enough in films today. The conversation is so potent that as sexy as Daryl McCormack is and as charming and elegant Emma Thompson is, the audience is more riveted when the stars mouths open to talk instead of kiss or suck something.
Not that we’re just using Thompson or McCormack for their bodies. But a great deal of Leo Grande’s success is our two leads, riveting whether clothes are on or off. I’m sure Emma was uneasy showing what a normal 60ish year old woman looks like clothes off, but that uneasiness she clearly channels into Nancy’s character. Thompson gives Nancy wealth of desire under a seemingly endless set of defense mechanisms, constantly uncomfortable with herself. Thompson modulates her emotional reactions stupendously, using dry British wit, fear, anger, or projection or sometimes all of the above to show how difficult the simple task of finding physical pleasure has become for her after years of not receiving any. Daryl McCormack, a relative unknown, is the big winner here, holding his own against legend Emma Thompson. Sorta Nancy’s opposite, Leo lives in a world of fantasy: an object of desire for anyone who books his time. McCormack shows how this work is what Leo wants to do, in part because its perennial validation he craves. But as Nancy’s emotional barriers come down, so do Leo’s and McCormack is great showing the pain he had to overcome to get to this point in his life. Together, Thompson and McCormack effortlessly work their emotional arcs into the story in movie harmony with one another, creating some dynamite sexual tension as well as generating legitimate emotional distress when inevitable lines become crossed.
Maybe Good Luck To You, Leo Grande shows why people choose to just start ripping clothes off and going at it. When you start talking about it, sex can get very messy very quickly. But that’s the joy of love right? If you love yourself or someone else, you’re so in tune with what is needed for maximum pleasure to be achieved. But sometimes it can be a little hard to get ready in 15 seconds.