“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” is About the Search for Pleasure and Much More
You hardly ever see truly sexy movies anymore. Today’s studios focus on blockbusters with three hour run times and comic book characters who don’t seem to have any desire to do anything other than destroy cities as they try to save the world.
Where’s the passion, romance, intimacy, or just good ol’ sexual tension and chemistry between actors on the big screen?
It’s dry out here.
Thinking back on previous decades—the steamy films of the ‘50s (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”), or interpretations of sex work in the ‘70s (“Klute”), to the erotic thrillers of the ‘80s (‘Fatal Attraction”) or the slow burn films of the ‘90s (“Devil in a Blue Dress” and “Jason’s Lyric”)—you might at least find some eroticism or at least sexual tension between characters.
But here we are in 2022, and I can’t remember too many movies that were made to leave the audience breathless and in awe of the storytelling, sensuality, or even the beauty of the actors themselves.
When I saw the trailer for “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande“ make the rounds on Twitter, I was ecstatic. It looked like something I’d been waiting on. The premise is simple via the film’s logline: “Retired widow Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) hires a good-looking young sex worker called Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), in the hope of enjoying a night of pleasure and self-discovery after an unfulfilling married life.” And though I was unfamiliar with McCormack’s work, Thompson is a powerhouse actress, so I knew there’d be something to see.
What I found was a quiet, heartbreaking, funny, sexy, intellectual, erotic film that left me wanting to see much more of McCormack’s work. It also left me thinking more deeply about the roles sex, lust, and intimacy play in our lives, even well past what is considered our prime. I’m going to try not to gush too much about how pretty and talented McCormack is.
Most of the movie takes place in a hotel room over the course of four meetings between the characters. Each time we see Nancy she’s fighting against how she was socialized to think of herself, her body, sex, lust, and how she feels about her desire for more than just what she’s been told to accept.
As for Leo, we find in him a caring and attuned professional. He balances out Nancy’s apprehension and anxiety by being almost endlessly patient and kind to her. He understands that sex is best when consent is enthusiastically given and when you have time to become known by your partner. He listens to Nancy and asks the questions that no one has likely bothered to ask her.
Nancy’s not an easy partner, though. Her moods and openness shift like the tides. The moment Leo thinks they’re getting somewhere, and that Nancy is going to open herself to the moment, she shuts things down (usually by peppering him with questions about his personal life).
Nancy’s sexual repression fuels much of the film’s tensionIn one scene, Nancy rudely orders him to do something and in that moment class and race come to mind so explicitly for me. The film never mentions the race and class differences between Leo (a mixed-race Black and Irish man) and Nancy (a white woman). Despite sidestepping these topics over the course of the film, it’s something the audience is left to wonder about. Otherwise, the story is so tight and compelling you can forgive the oversight.
So, let’s talk about one sexy part of the film—I won’t spoil the others for you.
Midway through Act 2, Nancy notices Leo’s forearms and asks him to remove his shirt. He does as she asks, and she looks at him, soaking him in, as do the rest of us—gratefully at that. This man is beautiful, wide shoulders leading to narrow hips.
Nancy approaches and asks, “May I touch your shoulders?” Leo consents to her explorative touches as she roams around him. Then she whispers, “May I touch your arms?” Leo responds with a simple, “Yes.” The camera frames both their faces close to each other as Nancy runs her hands along his arms. Next, she asks, “May I touch your chest?” Again, Leo gives her a whispered, “Yes.”
It’s one of the sexiest of scenes, by lauding the wildly arousing power of consent. The moment doesn’t last, though, because Nancy, once again overwhelmed by her feelings of lust, desire, shame, and repression, retreats into her head and breaks the moment.
Leo retreats to the window seal and has a seat. As he gives Nancy her space, he is bathed in the softest of sunlight. I had to gasp at just how beautiful he looked in that moment, framed by sheer curtains as he patiently watches Nancy.
Again, McCormack is as beautiful as a man can be on film in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.” Think Denzel Washington in “Devil in a Blue Dress,” Paul Newman in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” or Trevante Rhodes in “Moonlight”-level male beauty. You can’t help but hold your breath and stare. But it’s not just his physical presence that carries his performance. McCormack has skills.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” gives us something we can feel and something to think about when it comes to the pursuit of pleasure. Sex is complicated and movies about desire and sex are still necessary. We deserve matinee idols and bonafide movie stars who can make us sit up a little straighter in our theater seat, films that remind us that women of a certain age are still sexual and sensual creatures, and opportunities to relish and swoon over the sexual tension between actors. It’s all a part of the movie-watching experience, and it would be a shame if we lost it.