Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Sundance Film Festival Premieres Section

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Sophie Hyde

Writer: Katy Brand

Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack

Screened at: Sundance Film Festival Online, LA, 1/22/22

Opens: January 22nd, 2022

People can expect life to follow a certain narrative course, with milestones timed to arbitrary points that society has made seem normal or even required. That’s evidently not how things happen for everyone, and any number of circumstances can upend even the most carefully-planned situations. Someone may suddenly realize that they have never done or experienced a particular thing, and the desire to correct that actuality can be strong and overbearing. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande humorously explores one woman’s quest to fulfill a lifetime of longing for sexual exploration.

Nancy (Emma Thompson) is fifty-five and a widow, and she has determined that it is time to do the things she never has because she’s felt like she couldn’t or her husband didn’t want to while he was alive. She arranges to meet Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), a charming sex worker, in a hotel. Though she has an idea of what she wants, she lets her mind run wild and distract her from simply diving in to what Leo is more than prepared to offer her. No matter how comfortable Leo tries to make her, Nancy continues to worry that she shouldn’t actually go through with this.

It’s accurate to call this film a two-hander since most scenes feature only Thompson and McCormack. The setting is a neat hotel room, far from Nancy’s real life but still not a setting that can allow her to feel completely unlike herself. Leo is kind and amenable to whatever Nancy needs from him, assuring her that he has done this before and can modify how he does things however she would like. For Nancy, it’s about an extreme attitude adjustment, undoing everything she has known and preached throughout her life and letting loose for the first time.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande comes from director Sophie Hyde, whose previous features, Animals and 52 Tuesdays, both premiered at Sundance (the former mysteriously and regrettably never received a U.S. theatrical release). Just as those two films are completely different from each other, her third effort behind the camera is also something fresh and new, full of humor but also laced with a seriousness that only begins to reveal itself once Nancy and Leo move past the initial conversations to dig deeper into why Nancy is so resistant to this experience.

While, on its surface, this is an endearing comedy that should be enjoyable for most audiences, it also has added layers that make it even more worthwhile. Nancy has many feelings towards the much younger Leo that stem from her being a mother and having her own complicated connections to her children. She believes, because of what she has learned over the course of her life, that there is something undesirable about what Leo does, and that she bears a responsibility to help him escape that profession, a notion that Leo works to gradually help her realize is false and far too affected by an overwhelmingly negative societal perception of sex work.

Thompson is a formidable actress who has been delivering exceptional performances for several decades. Her last outing at Sundance, Late Night, allowed her to fully indulge in cutthroat comedy, which she demonstrated again with her scenery-chewing villain in Cruella. This performance is one of her finest, exemplifying maturity and a pointed attempt for Nancy to take herself less seriously. Opposite her, McCormack is a delight, adding dimensions to Leo that make him an extraordinarily compelling co-lead. Rather than losing steam as it goes on, this film approaches a warm, wonderful ending that makes the journey to get there feel all the more radiant and absolutely worthwhile.

97 minutes

Story – B+

Acting – A-

Technical – B+

Overall – B+

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack appear in ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ by Sophie Hyde, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Wall.

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