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Sundance 2022 Review: Good Luck To You, Leo Grande – “Its attitude towards sex, pleasure and women is so freeing.”

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack appear in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande by Sophie Hyde, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

A nervous woman paces around a hotel room, making marks in the plush carpet as she treads the floor.  A knock on the door.  That’s how it all starts.  Amazing how your life can change with one knock at the door.

In this case though, Nancy (Emma Thompson) has it all planned.  The retired school teacher isn’t a fan of surprises so she prepares and plans for everything, even this day, which she has been thinking about for months (maybe even longer if she’s honest with herself).  That knock at the door reveals a handsome young gentleman, Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack).  He tells Nancy she smells nice, she says it’s the perfume that Nigella Lawson wears.  He comments that she’s sexy.  A pause.  “I was waiting for you to say ‘her age.’  That she’s sexy for her age,” says Nancy.  A reflection of how she sees herself.

Nancy is a widow, married 31 years, whose husband passed away two years ago.  And she’s never had good sex.  She’s never even had an orgasm.  So Nancy has hired an expert, a sex worker to fulfill this part of her life.  Leo will be the second person she’s slept with.  If she can get there.  She’s obviously and understandably nervous and Leo, never pressuring, suggests they start with conversation.  They open up about themselves and their lives – with boundaries in place.  Slowly over the course of a few meetings Nancy starts letting her walls down and awakening to desires she’s held dormant, or been told are demeaning, for so long.

With a unique and original script from comic Katy Brand, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is refreshing in its freedom.  It reads much like a stage play (and actually would make an excellent one) taking place all in one room, two actors in an intimate dance of sorts (and sometimes literally) for 97 minutes.  Through this time the two discuss the superficial and the deep.  Their conversation wanders as Nancy inquires about Leo’s work (“There’s nothing crass about being paid for your work,” he says) and as Leo finds out how he can be of real service to her (“I don’t like anything going in where things are meant to come out,” she reveals).  Each of them have repressed emotions about different aspects of their lives, and they’ll reveal some things that surprise even themselves.

Director Sophie Hyde captures this emerging intimacy with grace, always respectful of her performers and the material.  It’s sensitive, yet at the same time accessible, meant to drop any shame felt in open and frank discussions of pleasure and body image.  While there are sexual images in the film, Hyde never sensationalizes them, instead always concentrating on these characters and what they’re feeling in their evolution.

Thompson and McCormack work beautifully with one another as both of their characters go through arcs of monumental growth.  The two are innately charming and have immense chemistry with one another, which easily comes across on screen.  In the film’s final scene, there is a moment so incredibly powerful and impactful in its depiction of a woman freed from her repression, freed from self-judgement, that it moved me to tears.  I certainly don’t mean to be trite when I say that Emma Thompson is exceedingly brave in this moment (she admits herself it is one of the hardest things she’s ever had to act) but her vulnerability is incredibly poignant.

I’ve never quite seen anything like Good Luck To You, Leo Grande depicted on screen before – and that’s a compliment.  Its attitude towards sex, pleasure and women is so freeing.  Its discussions on the legalization of sex workers is insightful, its talk about shame and repression in both Nancy and Leo’s experiences refreshing.  That we’ve taken until 2022 to get to this point is somewhat staggering, but more films like this can go a long way towards changing the narrative of how we feel about ourselves, and each other.

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