Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: A Sex Comedy That Looks to the Mind, Rather Than the Body

Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson star in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.

By Diana Beechener

Usually, when Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack: Peaky Blinders) shows up to a hotel room, he knows what’s going to happen when the door opens. A sex worker by trade, Leo deals with all genders, ages, and quirks pretty easily. He likes his job and he’s good at it.

         But new client Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson: Cruella) might prove to be a challenge for Leo. A control freak who spent the better part of her life as a religious studies teacher, Nancy is a bit uptight when it comes to sex. A widow who’s only ever slept with her husband, Nancy is obsessed with the idea that at 55 she’s missed out on a great many physical pleasures. Though Leo lays on the charm, Nancy can’t seem to get out of her head. She has a list of things she’d like to do with Leo, but flinches every time he comes near.

         Soon, Leo decides that the only way to crack Nancy isn’t through the physical—it’s with a mental connection. The two begin a complicated relationship that chips away at the walls Nancy has spent decades building. But as Leo makes progress, he must also open himself up to scrutiny. Can these two help each other embrace themselves? Or are some relationships better left behind closed hotel room doors?

         Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is an intricate character study masquerading as something lascivious. Director Sophie Hyde (The Hunting) knows that the sexy premise will get people to tune in, and she smartly uses it to lead the audience into a carefully nuanced look at two people who need something from each other. Hyde allows the interactions to be funny, but never lets them veer into slapstick or ridiculous. Nancy and Leo are people first and foremost, though they may act silly at times.

         Though McCormack is a charming, sometimes mercurial figure, the film is a showcase for Thompson. Her Nancy is a product of her upbringing, prudish and uptight because she was told that to act otherwise was to “ask for” bad things to happen. But her pathology was not limited to herself. Hyde and Thompson make it clear that Nancy wielded her repression to make herself feel better—using it to call her pupils’ names and make them feel the shame that churned within her. Now that she’s retired and has no husband and children to keep her busy, Nancy must face the idea that she’s been conditioned to hate herself and her desires. It’s an ugly thing to wrestle with, even with a handsome man willing to help her.

         The sessions themselves are probably closer to therapy than anything lurid. Nancy throws up a wall and Leo carefully picks his way over or around it, so they can progress in their physical relationship. Hyde brings up the idea that sex workers are essentially providing a necessary service—something that can help people come to terms with their bodies and ideas about intimacy. Leo indeed is more of a therapist than a romantic partner to Nancy. Watching as he helps her come to terms with how she’s lived her life is fascinating.

         Like therapy, there is some transference, and that may be the one misstep Hyde makes with her dramedy. Nancy’s gender comes into play a great deal, when she violates Leo’s boundaries. I doubt her transgressions would be as forgivable if she were a male client of a female sex worker. Hyde doesn’t seem to want to examine this breech of trust, instead sweeping it aside to further Nancy’s character growth. This reviewer isn’t sure it was the right choice, but it doesn’t hurt the overall flow of the movie.

         As you may have guessed, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande isn’t a family film. First of all, kids will likely be bored to tears listening to adults discuss social constructs around purity, respectability, and desirability. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, there’s full-frontal nudity. But if you’re preparing to give “the talk” to a young member of your family, or just re-evaluating “the talk” you got from your parents or teachers, this is a funny, touching film that can help you challenge and refine some of those ideas.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is streaming on Hulu beginning June 17.

Great Dramedy * R * 97 mins.