Sundance 2022 Premiere- “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”
Sophie Hyde’s third film to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, “Good Luck To You, Leo Grande” is a humorous, engaging, and honest look at intimacy. During our current times where people are starving for connection, the film’s themes play very well.
Emma Thompson is certainly on her way to another Oscar nomination starring as Nancy Stokes, a widow who has procured both a comfortable hotel room and a male escort in the hopes of an evening of sexual gratification. Nancy wants and needs an orgasm. Now in her 50s, she has never had one.
Nancy is a guarded woman who tries to do everything in a precise manner. A retired university professor, she does not exactly revel in her lonely and overly structured life. Nancy’s need for order comically invades even her sexual desires, as she compiles a list (in numerical order) of acts she wishes to do with her hourly companion. At number three on the list is the “69” position, which Nancy wonders aloud if that is what it is still called.
Daryl McCormack is Leo Grande, the handsome and strapping escort who enters Nancy’s life.
The film follows their series of meetings, each one bringing the two souls closer as people. Leo works to bring Nancy out of her shell (although it is no easy feat).
As they talk during their first meeting and the moment of sex gets closer, Nancy begins to find her need for good sex with a handsome younger man “controversial”, but Leo gently guides her to understand that there is no shame in one’s sexuality.
As Leo helps Nancy become more relaxed with her needs and her body, I am reminded of a moving moment from director Bruno Barreto’s undervalued gem, “Carried Away”. Dennis Hopper and Amy Irving are two people moving past middle age. In a beautifully performed scene, Irving’s character is too shy to stand fully naked in front of Hopper. He disrobes first and gently makes her feel open and relaxed. As she follows suit, the scene becomes an erotically beautiful awakening for the characters. It is one of the most genuinely moving moments of adult sexuality I have ever seen. Hyde’s film has many.
Leo has a born kindness when talking with Nancy. He does not need to “perform” for her. Leo is accessible on an emotional level and assures Nancy this is not always the case. She makes him feel comfortable as well. McCormack’s performance comes from his heart.
Dame Emma Thompson is beyond words. The depth of her work here is as stunning as anything the actress has ever done. Her performance has a freedom that is rare in today’s cinema. As Nancy, Thompson reveals so many layers. She is frank, funny, sad, sexy, inspiring, and touching. This is a marvelous work from one of our finest actors.
Katy Brand’s sharp screenplay examines some real issues of sexuality and sexual awakening, no matter what age. Films these days shy away from this kind of raw honesty and in our society, women are still made to feel ashamed of their desires and are continually shamed for not keeping toned bodies.
As Thompson stated during the virtual Sundance Cinema Cafe talk before the film’s premiere, “Nothing has changed in the dreadful demands made upon women in the real-world world but also in acting. This thing of having to be thin is still the same as it ever was, and actually, in some ways, I think it’s worse now.”
Brand’s perceptive screenplay examines how, when exploring intimacy free of romantic expectations, we can open doors within ourselves, learning more about our own desires and bodies. Brand’s text, Hyde’s direction, and the performances from Thompson and McCormack dig deep and allow the work to find an unfeigned truth.
Nancy and Leo are both guarded people. Their life experiences help them both to understand one another, as each one seeks to know more about the other beyond their physical interaction. As they talk and slowly learn about one another, assumptions and expectations disappear until there are just two souls sharing real-time experiences and the audience is witness to something very special.
Hyde’s direction is without judgment towards her characters. The filmmaker creates a relaxed and natural environment and allows for the actors to move beyond performance and bring an unforced authenticity to the entire piece.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is a clever, intelligent, and intimate film and one that should leave its audience in the throes of post-coital cinematic bliss.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Screenplay by Katy Brand
Directed by Sophie Hyde
Starring Dame Emma Thompson & Daryl McCormack
Not Yet Rated, 97 Minutes, Genesius Pictures, Lionsgate U.K.