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SUNDANCE 2022 Premieres

Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

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- Emma Thompson bares all in one of the most affecting performances of her entire career, playing an unsatisfied widow in Sophie Hyde’s film

Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Premiering at Sundance on its way to Berlin, Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is as simple as they get: two people, one hotel room and a minibar. But here’s the catch: she is an older, widowed woman, tired of a lifetime of unsatisfying sex in missionary position. She has never had an orgasm, not even with herself. He is someone she has hired to finally change that.

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Or so she thinks and hopes, then hesitates and freaks the hell out. When “Nancy” (Emma Thompson) and “Leo Grande” (Daryl McCormack) finally get together, it becomes obvious that the guy will need to put in some extra work, and not of the physical kind. Nancy, who shows up with a specific sexual list to start ticking off, is determined to try things. She is also a mess, realising that it’s not that easy to suddenly shed your skin as a former teacher and emerge as a liberated sex goddess. So they do what everyone else would do in that situation: they talk.

It’s hard to say if Nancy really cares about the well-being of a man she paid good money for, and it’s hard to say if at any point in this story Leo is actually telling the truth. They meet, then they meet again. Some of their conversations feel ridiculous – his family thinks he is working on an oil rig, apparently – and at one point she pinches his arm to see if he is “real”. The thing is, he probably isn’t, and their closeness might just be an illusion. The important part is that it seems to be working.

Hyde’s film might be a bit too cutesy at times, with a beginning that feels like a song-and-dance routine is waiting just around the corner. But it’s also one of the gentlest takes on sex work in ages, much more so than Pretty Woman. Which, apart from being ridiculous, featured someone investigating the body of a dead prostitute found in a dumpster and an attempted rape, although entire generations have successfully blocked all of that from their collective memory.

This time, any darker topics get mentioned and then forgotten, as Nancy blabbers on nervously and Leo just smiles, assuring his client that no, he’s not a victim of human trafficking, thank you for asking. There is some weariness in McCormack’s performance, suggesting that Leo, young, gorgeous and fine with providing Nancy with the “boyfriend experience”, has already seen it all. It’s not the weirdest encounter he has ever had: for one client, he dresses up as a cat and ignores him. Interestingly, though, although it’s mentioned that he is an expensive companion, he still keeps his socks on when already half-naked, which is enough to file a formal complaint, and helps himself to Nancy’s minibar without asking. In a literal sense, in case you were wondering.

While not entirely believable, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is still entertaining, and Thompson is just wonderful here. She can be hilarious or just plain heartbreaking, chatting up her sex worker simply to avoid further disappointments. She can be dowdy or sexy, terrified by her own arousal. There is one scene that’s bound to generate headlines, but it’s not just about Thompson’s courage as a performer; it’s about her skill. Frankly, this reviewer can’t remember the last time she was so invested in seeing someone get off on screen.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a production staged by Genesius Pictures (UK) and Align (USA). Its world sales have been entrusted to Cornerstone.

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