tue 23/07/2024

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande review - claustrophobic and bland | reviews, news & interviews

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande review - claustrophobic and bland

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande review - claustrophobic and bland

A chamber piece set in the bedchamber depicts an older woman in search of sexual pleasure

Just a gigolo?: Daryl McCormack entertains Emma Thompson

I really wanted to like Good Luck to You, Leo Grande. It’s got a funny trailer and Emma Thompson has been passionately publicising her film. And while our screens are currently full of stories about twentysomething girls and their chaotic love lives, watching a 62-year old woman intent on enjoying sex with a younger man on her own terms seemed promising.

Unfortunately, the film is overly talky and visually dull. 

Filmed under the restrictions of Covid, Leo Grande takes place almost entirely in a single hotel room, with one scene in the downstairs bar. It could have been a two-hander play, rather than a movie, and banal framing, lighting, and camerawork do nothing to help the claustrophobic blandness. 

There’s also a problem with the casting. It may well have been impossible to get the script on to the screen without Thompson's star power, but her public image is so strong as an independent, sex positive feminist that it’s very hard to suspend disbelief and accept that she is the character she’s portraying. Nancy Stokes is a retired RE teacher who after two years of widowhood, decides to hire a sex worker to see if she can achieve the orgasm that her husband (the only man she has ever slept with) failed to provide during their long marriage.

She’s booked Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) from an agency to pleasure her by the hour in an anonymous hotel room. He’s something of a "sex saint" (her words), keen to satisfy his clients, delighted to talk about the professional pride he takes in sleeping with older women and making them happy. Hearing that she’s never had a climax, even on her own, he is more than up for the challenge. Nancy reads out a list of erotic experiences she wants to have and some no-nos: “I don’t want anything going into places where things usually come out”.  There are some good moments of comedy, mainly around Nancy’s outspoken views (young men today need a war, her own son bores her, even adult children are a weight around her neck), but this is no bedroom farce. Mostly it’s an earnest talky, with Nancy fretting about the sex-worker’s motives for choosing his line of work and agonising over what his mother would think if she knew. She interrogates him about whether he’s been trafficked, or grew up in care, or was an abuse victim. As she pushes him to reveal more and more about his true identity, these conversations turn into heated emotional scenes.

These talkfests take up most of the film – in lieu of on-screen sex. We learn about Leo's fractured relationship with his Irish mum and military brother, but Nancy never asks her escort about his absent dad. Maybe because that would have led to questions that a cautious screenwriter didn't want to tackle. Why did Nancy specifically chose Leo from the agency’s roster of escorts? He is mixed race and it’s hard to believe that Nancy would not be aware of Prue Leith’s widely reported remarks or the TV documentary about white European geriatrics going to Gambia for sex with young black men. Nancy is so anxious about how she appears to Leo, so keen to find out his real name and history, it seems cowardly that a discussion of race, white privilege, and exploitation never arises.

Unfortunately, there’s also not much chemistry between the two leads. It’s all very British and the sedate sex scenes look like they have not only been guided by an intimacy co-ordinator but directed by her or him, too. McCormack’s Leo is unnervingly perfect: he's a shop window mannequin – one with exquisitely sculpted abs – brought to life.

Despite having a woman director, writer, and several female producers, the camera’s gaze is male – we see more of Nancy than we do of Leo. It’s been a while since I’ve watched American Gigolo, but I’m pretty sure Paul Schrader framed its sex worker (Richard Gere) in a way that would arouse a female audience more convincingly back in 1980. And while I admire Thompson’s brave moments of nudity and her earnest desire to raise the subject of older women’s sexual needs, I was more impressed (and convinced) by her peer Joanna Scanlan’s fearless nude performances in The Invisible Woman and After Love.


The sedate sex scenes look like they have not only been guided by an intimacy co-ordinator but directed by her or him, too


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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