When people in the future look back on Emma Thompson's filmography, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is going to stand out. Not because it's her best movie, although it's certainly very good, but because of the fearlessness of her performance. The 63-year-old actress appears fully nude here. Her character, Nancy Stokes, is a woman of a certain age, critical of her body and uncomfortable in her own skin. Thompson makes that palpable, then swings it around to suggest that Nancy finds a tiny sliver of self-acceptance at the end. She creates a touching, authentic, and inspiring portrait of someone learning to love herself. Lots of viewers will identify with the struggle to get to that point.
Nancy has been widowed for a couple years. By her own admission, she's never had an adventure, and her late husband is the only man she was ever intimate with. Now Nancy is in a nice hotel room, waiting for the male escort she's hired. Leo (Daryl McCormack) is handsome and muscular. Perhaps too much so. Nancy has an immediate panic attack, second-guessing her decision to have company and pleasure for two hours. The story tracks these strangers over the course of three meetings. By the second, she has slightly overcome her shyness, wanting to try sex acts that were previously unthinkable to her. By the third, she's had an epiphany about herself.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a sex-positive tale. Leo proves to be endlessly patient, reminding Nancy that it's okay to experience pleasure. In some ways, he's more than a sex worker, he's also a therapist, helping his client through her neuroses and assuring her that he finds something interesting in every woman he's with – even those who are older and lacking in confidence. No one has ever told Nancy that taking care of herself is okay. She's been fed a message all her life that she needs to tend to everyone else, putting herself last. Watching her attempt to process that idea provides equal parts laugher and empathy.
One of the sweetest aspects of the movie is how Leo guides her into appreciating her body a little more. Since Nancy practically considers her body an enemy, that's a huge step. Initially, she's nervous, because he's young and ripped, she's 55 and flabby. Why would he want to be with her sexually? We can tell Leo isn't just feeding her a line. As conceived by writer Katy Brand, the character is someone who enjoys connecting with other people, genuinely sees the good in most of them, and strives to help them feel good about themselves. As the story progresses, a few of Leo's defenses wear down, and he begins to talk about not only his professional philosophy, but his struggles, too. The compassion he has for people like Nancy comes from personal episodes.
The vast majority of the picture is Thompson and McCormack alone in a room. Both are outstanding in their roles, bringing Brand's sharp, insightful dialogue to life. They work up a fiery chemistry, too. Sparks can fly in various ways. A meeting of the minds is just as sexy as anything physical. The actors work together to build a dynamic between their characters that makes how they grow from their meetings really come alive. Any time a film is able to depict a bond between two people that feels this truthful, it's worth celebrating.
At times, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande becomes a tad repetitive in showing Nancy's anxiety. It's also mildly frustrating that the film cuts away from stuff we're curious to see, namely her reactions to the more adventurous sex acts she tries. There was no need to be graphic, yet a small bit of follow-up would have been satisfying. Aside from those minor issues, the movie is uplifting, as it reminds us how important it is to be kind to ourselves. And Emma Thompson's rich, nuanced performance is a thing of beauty.
out of four
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.