Movie Review: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Sex positive comedy is charming, sexy—and sneakily radical.

The so-called sexual revolution took place nearly 60 years ago, but it wasn’t until the last few years that the notion of “sex positivity” made its way into the lexicon. Sex positivity basically argues (correctly) that so-called slut-shaming is misogynistic and women should be able to own their own bodies, their own sexuality, and their own pursuit of pleasure without judgment.

So imagine you’re a straight-laced, widowed, middle-aged high school teacher who sees her young female charges wearing increasingly shorter skirts and having shame-free sex with well-toned young men (they didn’t have abs like that when you were younger). You might have a combination of reactions. Your first instinct might be to condemn this generation for their sexual freedom. But secretly, you’re jealous—you want what they have.

This is the premise of Sophie Hyde’s delightful—and sneakily radical—Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, where that now-retired schoolteacher, Nancy (Emma Thompson), decides to take matters into her own hands by hiring a male sex worker. She’s picked him out online, based on his looks. And she’s procured a hotel room for the encounter. When Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) arrives, he’s even more handsome than she realized. And he’s impossibly smooth and confident, too, with a sneaky smile that says he knows exactly what he’s doing—in bed and out.

Thompson is particularly wonderful in these first scenes, as she fumfers, rambles, frets, and tries, several times, to send Leo away. But Leo is patient, comforting, and wise. He assures her he’s had sex with older women—way older than her—and that he likes it. It’s not exploitation. It’s his job, and he’s good at it. Their tryst turns more into a therapy session, until finally they have sex. But before that, Nancy warns Leo that she has never had an orgasm before and doesn’t expect to have one now. Leo gives another sneaky smile.

I confess that in these opening scenes I found Leo almost impossibly perfect— an evolved, intelligent, self-aware man who loves older women and always seems to know just the right thing to say. He almost felt like a character out of fan fiction.

Mind you, even with that objection, I was more than happy to stick with Good Luck to You, Leo Grande—I mean how many movies have middle-aged women getting it on with a hottie in a hotel room? (The answer is zero, by the way. Zero movies.) And McCormack and Thompson have a wonderful, sexy chemistry, worth the watch alone. But I’m pleased to say that, over the course of several encounters—almost the entire film plays out in that hotel room, Same Time Next Year-style—we see some vulnerability in Leo, some additional layers, and get to understand how he came to be the dreamy sex worker we see before us. What’s more, the power dynamic between the two ebbs and flows—it’s not always meek Nancy and suave Leo. Sometimes, she’s the one with the power. (The film doesn’t shy away from the borderline Oedipal bond they share—Leo is estranged from his mother.)

I knew going in that, once sexually liberated, Nancy’s hair would get looser, her clothing less frumpy, her smile more easy, but the great Thompson never overplays it and frankly, it’s a joy to watch Nancy come into her own. By the end of film, she’s radiant—sex positive, body positive, ready to take on the world.


Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now streaming on Hulu.