Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – an absolute delight of sexual liberation with Emma Thompson (Berlinale review)

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – an absolute delight of sexual liberation with Emma Thompson (Berlinale review)

Nancy Stokes, a 55-year-old retired teacher, has never experienced an orgasm, or any satisfying sex at all. Her marriage was stable but stale and her late husband was the only man she had ever slept with. To make things right, Nancy takes the leap and hires the services of Leo Grande, a sex worker – or “sex therapist,” as he puts it – in his twenties. But her plan is complicated by a seemingly insurmountable collection of inner barriers and taboos.

Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde directs this highly compelling chamber piece written by English comedian Katy Brand. The repressed sexuality of Britain’s middle class is exposed and mercilessly teased for our delectation and embodied by one of the country’s most relatable stars, the fabulous Emma Thompson that is absolutely terrific in this career role that she portraits with humor, tenderness and precision.

Good luck to you, Leo Grande, is not the first film to explore sexuality and the taboos of previous or even current generations. It is though one of the few that put a middle age – to told woman on the center and make her see and question her life’s beliefs through sex. The whole film takes place at the same hotel room, where Nancy and Leo have their sessions. Nancy is skeptical about having sex with a sex worker, thinking at first that she exploits him. For two years she was thinking and planning for this, it is something that she wants, but cannot just let go of her own beliefs and taboos that fast. She is after all the religious education teacher that lectured her students of having too short skirts. She will have with Leo long discussions about prostitution, sex, fantasies, but also about his mother and her kids that she adores but finds either boring or just too messy. Sexual tension gives its place to tender and other times heated discussions and from there to clumsy sex tryouts and funny neurotic sequences. And all that while as the provocative title of the film always brings back the conversation to the “success” or not of Leo to give Nancy her first orgasm ever.

Hyde’s film discusses some really important issues of liberation of sex that even the most advanced societies struggle to have an honest discussion about. The discussion on prostitution vividly brought in my mind the episode of Borgen – the danish political drama series – when we get the opportunity to discuss prostitution with the sex workers themselves. Everyone seems still to have an opinion on whether paid sex is a crime or not, and if it is, who sound be convicted for it. The film shows one and for all, that this discussion is outdated and that sex workers should not only have a place on the table, whenever such a topic comes up, but also the most important voice on it. 

The chemistry of Thompson with her co-lead Daryl McCormack is magnificent. Honestly their performances should be not disregarded next year on the major awards of the season. Thompson is so natural on the role, that it is hands down the best performance of her career, but also one of the most important ones on this widely disregarded and tabooed issue. Thompson is probably one of the few actresses that didn’t get scared by the film, without it meaning that she didn’t struggle. She mentioned at her interviews that it took her a whole to come in peace with her own body. Of course none of these would have worked without the script by Katy Brand which makes the cheesy line of sex therapy sessions that Leo mentions and transforms it into actual reality for Nancy.

Grade: 4.5 / 5

Director: Sophie Hyde Written by: Katy Brand
with Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson
Country: United Kingdom Year: 2022
Runtime: 97’

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