Good films about sex work are hard to come by. While most focus on trauma or exploitation, it’s hard to find those that don’t look to save the character from their life. More often than not an older man comes in to save a much younger woman from a life of selling sex. While it’s few and far between that we find stories that don’t turn sex work into a horror story, it’s even less so that we see a man as the sex worker and an older woman as his client. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is aware of this all and continually confronts and dismantles how media often views the profession and those who pay for services.
Directed by Sophie Hyde and written by Katy Brand, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is an intimate look at Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson), a retired English teacher. Having only ever had sex with one man, her now-deceased husband, Nancy is trying to recapture her youth and experience things she never had the confidence to ask for in her marriage. A ball of anxiety with a sex list, she books time with Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), a handsome and much younger sex worker whose charm matches his looks.
Good Luck To You Leo Grande is sweet and vulnerable. It explores sex, sexuality, and sex work as what it can do for people and validates both the escort and the one who has paid for the service. While the film itself keeps from othering Leo’s work and his identity, Nancy definitely has her assumptions and reservations. Instead of making her know exactly what to say or having Leo calmly explain every way she is wrong, the two have emotional conversations that feel like a real exchange instead of something crafted from “how to support sex workers 101” talking points.
While sex is had and enjoyed, it’s the conversations and exploration of each other that happens out of the bed that highlights the beauty in the film. Contained to one hotel room over the course of a few weeks, Thompson and McCormack have chemistry that ranges from subtle to electric and runs the gambit of intimacy, even if Leo is selling a fantasy.
The two of them are remarkably open and as they learn from each other and grow, they also showcase old wounds without the story turning into one that explores a sex worker who has turned to their job because of trauma. In fact, Leo loves his work. He enjoys the people he entertains and being the one to make them feel alive. But like anyone, he also feels shame from crushing familial expectations that Nancy begins to bring out in him.
For her part, Nancy hasn’t repressed her sexual needs because of a grand trauma. Instead, she’s a product of a society that teaches women to have sex for male pleasure and not their own. While she understands the importance of not faking a climax and asking for what she wants, she wasn’t vocal in her marriage. Now, with Leo, she’s exploring who she knows that she can be, no matter how hard it is for her to start opening up and having sex.
There is an awkwardness between the two of them. Half of this is their age gap and the other half is Nancy’s anxiety. The age gap awkwardness though never feels exploitive. Instead, it comes from miscommunications that come from their ages, primarily when Nancy doesn’t understand Leo’s world or his boundaries.
What Good Luck To You Leo Grande does best is that Nancy isn’t just the person to be “fixed” on this occasion. Instead, she also helps Leo grow as well. Both characters have insecurities, either verbalized or shown in small moments as they look in the mirror or react silently to a conversation topic. This is key to making a story that both looks at the way that women are told to shun sexuality, especially when they mature, but also ensures that Nancy isn’t without agency. Additionally, though, Leo also isn’t someone who needs to be pulled from his life of sex work. Both are given the opportunity to grow, yes, but it isn’t dismissing these parts of themselves, but embracing them.
By the film’s end, Nancy embraces herself. She embraces who she is and stops putting up fronts for the people around her. She isn’t someone’s mother or someone’s teacher, she’s a woman who has found beauty in her body, and joy in sex that has allowed her to become the person she’s always been.
Good Luck To You Leo Grande is a sweetly vulnerable look at what sex can mean for people and how the intimacy experienced physically can extend to emotional relationships and growth. Additionally, it’s important that the film manages to tell this story without demonizing either character or acting like there is something wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with Nancy paying for sex, and there is nothing wrong with Leo charging for it. There is joy in this film and understanding, but above all else a push to accept yourself the way you are.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is a sweetly vulnerable look at what sex can mean for people and how the intimacy experienced physically can extend to emotional relationships and growth.