Emma Thompson experiences a belated sexual awakening in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

click to enlarge Pillow talk reigns supreme in Leo Grande.
Pillow talk reigns supreme in Leo Grande.

For the title character of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, sex is both a vocation and an avocation. To him, giving and receiving pleasure is the most exalted of human activities, and he takes great pride in his job as a high-end escort. For retired teacher Nancy Stokes, sex is a combination of obligation and mystery, something that she's participated in but never particularly enjoyed or understood. Nancy (Emma Thompson) and Leo (Daryl McCormack) meet in an anonymous hotel room for what starts out as a business transaction, but becomes a meaningful relationship for both of them.

This charming, low-key dramady isn't a gender-reversed Pretty Woman, though, and it's not a love story. It's a movie about an older woman learning to truly live her life, perhaps for the first time, challenging the preconceived ideas she's held onto since she was a child. It's also about a young man opening up about his own trauma, although Leo's breakthroughs are always secondary. He has his own inner life and baggage, but he takes his job seriously, which means focusing on Nancy's needs. Like a lot of escort characters in movies, he's as much a therapist as he is a sex worker.

That's not to say that Leo and Nancy don't have sex. She's hesitant and fidgety during their first meeting, revealing to Leo that she's only ever had sex with one other man, her late husband, and strictly in the exact same missionary manner each time. She also reveals that she's never had an orgasm, although she assures him that she isn't expecting one from him. For most of Leo and Nancy's initial encounter, it seems like they might not have sex at all, despite Leo's many reassurances to Nancy about her various insecurities.

One of the lovely things about this movie is that it would still be entertaining and engrossing even if all the two characters did was talk. They're funny and likable and easy to watch. Thompson, of course, is an acting legend, and she conveys every worry and regret of Nancy's life in each line of dialogue and awkward movement. Leo is more inscrutable, but McCormack gets occasional moments of solitude to show that Leo, too, despite being young and handsome and fit, has insecurities and doubts. He gives a quieter performance, but he's never overshadowed.

Leo and Nancy meet four times, only briefly interacting with another character in the final segment, and almost the entire movie takes place within the same hotel room. But writer Katy Brand and director Sophie Hyde avoid any sense of artificial limitations, without resorting to distracting visual trickery. Hyde directs in a simple, straightforward style that primarily showcases the actors, without seeming stale or stagebound. For most of the movie, she cuts away from any explicit sex, preferring to focus on the emotional buildup and aftermath, which makes the eventual graphic intimacy all the more satisfying, both for the characters and for the audience.

Good Luck to You is a gentle, sex-positive story about the value of human connection, closer to the Oscar-nominated sex-surrogate drama The Sessions than a typical movie about a sex worker. Brand and Hyde still have to generate some conflict, though, and a third-act blowup between Nancy and Leo over the ethics of his job comes off as a little contrived. Still, it remains grounded in the characters' feelings and history, and it leads to a warm, honest resolution. These two people are better off for having known each other, and we're better off for having spent a little time with them, too. ♦

Three Stars Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Rated R
Directed by Sophie Hyde
Starring Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack
Streaming on Hulu

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