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Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a Sex-Positive Rendezvous

Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) lost her husband two years ago. It’s taken those two years for her to gather the courage to arrive at the decision to hire a sex worker named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Nancy has never had an orgasm, and she’s decided to take control of her sex life for the first time ever. She and Leo meet in a hotel room on three separate occasions. What begins as a purely sexual arrangement morphs into Nancy and Leo talking about their hopes, fears, and personal lives.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a movie whose production during the Covid pandemic is to its benefit. Save for two scenes that bookend the movie, the film takes place exclusively in the hotel room, and at times it feels almost too intimate. Like the audience is spying on Leo and Nancy, but not in a voyeuristic sense. Instead, it’s personal in a way that reminds the audience of a time in their life when they, too, met someone special. Life isn’t always about the special people who stick around through the years. Sometimes a person’s presence is fleeting, but their impact is monumental and lasting. Together, Leo and Nancy have created a small, insular world where they can be open and honest in a way that surprises them both.

This film is a charming look at the preconceived notions many people have about sex and sex work. Nancy believes that sex is shameful and should never be a means of pleasure. All of her previous experiences were tedious, a chore. Even though she has never enjoyed being intimate with men, Nancy hasn’t lost the feeling of “wanting.” There are feelings she wants to act on, but has been told by society and her husband that these wants are not a priority. Sex in her marriage was just for the sake of her husband and always the same. He would touch her in the same places and do the same actions every time. So much so that it was a boring routine. Even in these encounters with Leo and the lists she makes of different acts she wants to try, Nancy is afraid to allow herself to fully let go. She sees sex as something to check off a list, or an experience to gain so she can be more sophisticated. It takes a few meetings with Leo for Nancy’s walls to begin to break down. It would be robbing the audience of the beauty of their relationship if the details of why/how Nancy’s walls break down were revealed prior to watching the film. So much of Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is about the journey rather than a specific goal.

Leo and Nancy dance in the hotel room

Sex is not the only form of intimacy that exists in the world. In fact, the conversations between Leo and Nancy are often more intimate than their sex acts. They tell each other secrets and truths that they don’t feel comfortable telling people in their actual lives. They find something freeing in these fleeting connections where there are no repercussions for honesty. Nancy and Leo can be open and honest and have no worries about how the secrets they reveal will affect them outside of the hotel room. It’s almost a break from reality. There’s nothing expected of either one of them, they’re removed from the busyness of society, and nothing exists but the two of them. Their interactions are tinged with sadness because it’s clear they don’t feel this carefree outside the walls of the hotel room.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is progressive in a multitude of ways. Not only does it support sex work, it celebrates the human body. Women over the age of forty haven’t been given the pace to be desired or confident in their bodies as they age. Nancy points out early in the film that when Leo compliments her, she’s expecting him to follow-up with “for her age.” But he doesn’t. There are aspects of Nancy that Leo notices and genuinely appreciates, which shocks Nancy. She’s never seen herself as desirable, and her husband didn’t look at her that way. This has been detrimental to her own understanding and love for her body.

Leo and Nancy sit on the bed

McCormack and Thompson are incredible. Their undeniable chemistry is the guiding light of the movie. It’s often said that casting makes or breaks a film, and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a testament to that statement. It’s nearly impossible to imagine the movie without McCormack or Thompson. Thompson is at her best, and the film will surely be career-defining for McCormack.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is simple. It’s two people in (mostly) one room having earnest conversations without worrying about their image. Its simplicity is a healing process that Nancy and Leo never expected. There’s a vulnerability in every aspect of the film that makes it endearing, essential viewing.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande will begin streaming on Hulu in the US on June 17th.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Amy Adams her Oscar.

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