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Good Luck to You, Leo Grande | Review

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande | Review

The Roman Spring of Emma Thompson: Hyde Demands Over Time in Sex Work Dramedy

Sophie Hyde Good Luck to You, Leo Grande ReviewOne wonders what Camille Paglia might have to say about Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, the third feature from Australia’s Sophie Hyde, which formulates an earnest, sex-positive portrait of a mature woman’s humble quest for sexual satisfaction. Of Paglia’s many musings on sexuality, she posited ‘pursuit and seduction’ were necessary components constituting the ‘sizzle,’ both elements absent from this sometimes refreshingly blunt tackling of women pursuing pleasure.

Written by Katy Brand, who’s heretofore mined her talents in comedy, this sobering treatment of what some women may want takes a while to hit its stride, and features a winsome Emma Thompson, managing to land the fluctuations of her characterization even when the narrative feels like a lasso.

After being widowed for two years, retired religious instructor Nancy (Thompson) defies her own standards in hiring a younger male sex worker named Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Initially trepidatious, she has her own considerable hangups to work through. Nancy’s conservative ideals and rigid values, paired with a sexual history which includes just her husband on top of never having experienced an orgasm, her rapport with Leo slowly chips away at her inhibitions. While their first meeting proved strenuous but affable, Nancy hires Leo again, this time with a bucket list of sexual scenarios (although anal proves to be the bridge too far in her mind), and things progress into a third appointment. But Nancy lets it slip she’s identified Leo IRL and he storms out of their hotel room, leaving Nancy reeling. One final appointment allows them both a chance to converse authentically and intimately, paving the way towards the elusive big O.

Not unlike Hyde’s rigidly linear 2013 debut 52 Tuesdays (read review), a well meaning drama of a teen’s grappling with her mother’s gender transition, for which Hyde became an indie breakout, there’s often a sense of emotional detachment from Leo and Nancy, wholly defined by their relationship, unable to transcend its specific confines. As Leo, McCormack says and does all the right things—-even his lashing out at Nancy’s boundary violation is an exercise in restraint, thus solidifying him as mere fantasy. Even his familial emotional baggage, though sexually defined, regards a nebulous scenario which only serves to make him more ambiguous.

As Nancy (who we eventually learn is really a woman named Susan Robinson), Thompson is almost perversely standoffish, especially for a woman who’s deigned to hire a much younger male escort. In previous times, she’d be rubber stamped as frigid, psychoanalyzed against misogynist templates of ‘hysterical’ women, but Hyde and Brand are attempting to showcase how decades of blatant sexual repression and oppression cannot be undone in one magical hour or two of immersive sexual congress. And while Thompson is a formidable draw, she also feels a bit miscast considering her beauty, tenacity and, well, overriding curiosity (at least according to what her widowhood has apparently fostered).

In the realm of male sex workers (i.e., gigolos), as regards those portrayed in popular cinema whose clientele are well-heeled women, they almost always have the upper (emotional) hand, somehow looking to fleece or otherwise consume their amorous employers. And one wishes Leo’s motivations were mined beyond the clinical facade of the professional love maker, and perhaps reveal someone a little less magically composed (especially considering his age), like Warren Beatty using Vivien Leigh in Tennessee Williams’ The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Or perhaps it needed to allow Nancy some leeway, at least in the direction of the uncomfortable sexual obsession Anne Reid has for Daniel Craig in Roger Michell’s The Mother (2003).

Hyde allows a formidable culmination for Thompson in the final sequence, mining the most simplistic but most vulnerable confrontation in contending with her own gaze. Not unlike the finale of Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995), as Julianne Moore attempts reclamation through the motions of emotional self-love, Thompson’s Nancy/Susan is left with the hard won satisfaction of embracing her physicality and a previously unavailable part of herself.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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