Though it does put on classical romcom airs from time to time, it’s hard to think of a more ‘of the moment’ film to come out this year so far than Good Luck To You Leo Grande. Not only does it dive headfirst into hot button issues like sex work, classism, female disappointment, and the orgasm gap, its tiny scale makes it one of the definitive pandemic-era films, most of its runtime spent with just two actors in a non-descript and, presumably, easy to keep COVID-safe hotel room. It’s a restriction that Sophie Hyde’s film generally works around with wit and skill, though it does occasionally leave it feeling very stagey in a way that saps excitement.
This hotel room, somewhere in London, is the meeting spot for retired teacher Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) and the sex worker she’s hired, handsome Irish 20-something Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Now widowed, Nancy has spent the past 30 years in a passionless marriage filled with bad sex, and so she has chosen Leo to catch her up on everything she’s missed, from more adventurous sex moves to actually having an orgasm, which her late husband never provided.
As you might expect, it starts out awkward – the very first line of the entire film is a cheesy double entendre – Katy Brand’s script mining a lot of laughs from Nancy’s nerves and Leo’s seemingly effortless ability to slowly pull her out of her shell across their four increasingly emotionally intimate sessions (one a week over the course of a month). Thompson is clearly having a blast as Nancy careens between excitement and regret, confused by the ethical implications of hiring a sex worker (the film never once uses the words ‘prostitute’ or ‘gigolo’) but also thrilled to finally have some real sexual agency, even if she’s had to pay for it.
Outside of the frank and explicit sex scenes, all well handled by Hyde, Thompson is hardly covering new ground for her career here, but she’s so reliably good in dramedy mode that you wouldn’t have it any other way, and McCormack really impresses in his biggest film role to date, bouncing off Thompson with charm and charisma. We do initially see Leo as a fantasy through Nancy’s eyes, but McCormack grounds him in something more real, while Brand does a subtly great job of introducing us to Nancy’s own human flaws without hammering you over the head with them. The film as a whole is less convincing during its more dramatic moments, though, asking heavy moral questions that it seems to only have a limited interest in actually tackling, and there’s just something missing from the ending to really stick the landing.
The staginess of the whole endeavour is unavoidable and, whilst this does give a solid and tactile sense of place to the hotel room, there’s not much here that feels all that cinematic. With Brand’s sharp and sexy script, this very small scale isn’t exactly a dealbreaker, but you do sometimes wonder why a two-hander like this wasn’t just a play, Hyde only occasionally using her camera in genuinely interesting ways. That said, it’s still mostly entertaining and, in verbalising questions and desires that, until recently, have been a bit taboo in mainstream cinema, especially when it comes to older women, Good Luck To You Leo Grande proves a fun, funny crowdpleaser with just about enough bite.