Emma Thompson leads sexual empowerment comedy drama to unsatisfying ends.
Dir: Sophie Hyde. UK. 2022. 97 mins
Widowed, retired and sexually unfulfilled, Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) sets out to experience and claim the sensual pleasure that has so far eluded her by hiring the services of a young, male sex worker (Daryl McCormack). He calls himself Leo Grande; he is impossibly handsome. He is also smart, articulate and engaged. Over the course of four meetings in a sterile hotel, the pair get to know each other, teasing out revelations which go beyond a merely commercial relationship and into something deeper. It’s a promising premise for a comedy drama but this single-location two-hander feels as though it was rushed into production as much for its easily managed Covid-19 safety compliance as anything else. Despite a sterling effort from Thompson, neither the comedy nor the character arcs are fully satisfying.
A title of interest for distributors hoping to connect with the more mature end of the female audience
The relative dearth of films which explore the sexuality of women over fifty, plus the presence of Emma Thompson, should make Good Luck To You, Leo Grande a title of interest for distributors hoping to connect with the more mature end of the female audience. Despite the sexual content, this is a rather more decorous proposition than director Sophie Hyde’s previous picture, the riotous portrait of female friendship, Animals. After pre-Sundance deals for multiple territories, including with Lionsgate for the UK, Searchlight swooped in mid-fest to take US rights. Word of mouth momentum might be dependent, however, on luring the audience into the cinema rather than watching via a VOD option – this is the kind of gentle comedy which might land most successfully in the company of a receptive and invested audience.
The story plays out almost entirely in the same hotel room, with one brief foray into the all-but deserted hotel bar. It’s a characterless box, this room, the kind of comfortably unchallenging luxury that a woman like Nancy – aggrieved, conservative and slightly unsettled by anything too showy – would feel safe in. But while the location does give us an insight into the central character, it’s a visually uninteresting backdrop. Flat lighting and straightforward nuts-and-bolts camerawork, together with a score which feels as neutral and meek as the décor, means that a great deal of heavy lifting is left to the performances.
Fortunately, Thompson is impressive, giving a detailed and textured reading of a complicated and not entirely likeably character. A former teacher, she is undeniably smart, but hers is a kind of peevish intelligence which is slightly coloured by the disappointments of her life. She’s plagued by self-doubt and physical insecurities, but also monstrously judgemental at times – she once informed her female students that they were all sluts; apropos of nothing, she announces to Leo that what his generation needs is a war. Irish actor McCormack, meanwhile, has weapons-grade charisma and physical presence but struggles with an underwritten role.
The message, at first glance one of sexual empowerment, is not as clear cut as it initially seems. There’s a risk that the film might be perceived as suggesting that Nancy’s stunted sexual experience – she has never achieved an orgasm – is something which needs to be fixed by a man. To counter that assumption, the film is at pains to stress the fact that Nancy is in control of her journey – and her orgasm – even as it shies away from a deeper exploration of the power dynamic between the punter and the sex worker.
Production company: Genesius Pictures
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Producers: Debbie Gray, Adrian Politowski
Screenplay: Katy Brand
Cinematography: Bryan Mason
Editing: Bryan Mason
Production design: Miren Maranon
Music: Stephen Rennicks
Main cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack, Isabella Laughland