Too often, the stigma surrounding sexuality and age is a barrier that holds individuals back from the true healing power of pleasure. Whether this stigma is born out of cumulative societal perspectives or an intimate in-home upbringing, it not only takes hold but becomes an almost immovable force the more we accept it to be true. Yet, it is not immovable, stigmas only find their power in the belief that they are true. And once you begin to break down one stigma, you may find there are many others waiting in the wing.
For Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, the intimacy of a sex worker and newly widowed 55-year-old woman attempts to break down the perceived notion of age and sex. Yet, it is not just the stigmatized issues of ageism and sexuality that find themselves in the limelight, Leo Grande layering in depths of character building, shared intimacy, empowerment, and even the power of healing. A unique and gratifying watch, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande may just be one of the best films to come out of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.
Boasting an intimate set and limited cast, Leo Grande does not immediately embrace its intimacy. Opening on the backs of its characters, it personifies behaviors too often associated with the violation or embracement of so-called stigmatized behavior. While the film peels away each layer one bit at a time, the opening of Leo Grande is impactful, lending to a different interpretation with each watch.
Both Nancy (Emma Thompson) and Leo (Daryl McCormack) are introduced separately, two worlds colliding. When Nancy is shown in the hotel room, Leo leaves a shop entering into the big wide world. There is space around him speaking to the embracement of life in all its riches. He sees the world differently and in a more broad scope, leading to the credibility of his character’s intuitive abilities later on. Nancy, however, in her tight jacket and skirt ensemble radiates nerves, the hotel room giving the feeling of enclosure and isolation – one that she can not break free from.
It is not until Leo and Nancy are in the room together that the audiences begin to piece together the objective of their meeting. Nancy has hired Leo, a sex worker, to help her explore and experience a sexual encounter outside of her now-deceased husband. As audiences will come to discover, Nancy has not only never slept with anyone else before, but her sex life has been rigid and predictable her entire life. Also, she has never had an orgasm – something she has no expectation of ever experiencing.
As the night and subsequent film unfold, what turns into a quest for sex becomes an epic adventure of intimacy that crashes through the glass ceiling of perceived stigmas and limitations others and ourselves allow to hold us back. But the experience of honesty with a stranger is not limited to only Nancy, however, Leo finds that he too can find healing in the power of sex.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande may seem like a simple concept in a film, but it is meaty and passionately crafted. From its very beginning, Leo Grande tackles the stigma surrounding agism – the idea of a 55-year-old woman wanting to engage in sex – whether it be with a younger or older man. Why shouldn’t a woman want to feel good about herself and feel sexual pleasure no matter her age? But Leo Grande is not settled with just looking at Nancy as means to break the mold, cleverly interweaving dialogue to both introduce and reinforce the power and unity of women – and that she is not alone.
Yet, it is not just the stigmatism of age for women, but a man finding pleasure and sexuality in older women. Nancy constantly questions Leo on whether he can perform, making assumptions that it is his work that keeps him pursuing the evening. While much of this can be chalked up to Nancy’s own self-esteem and perspective of herself, it also addresses the stigmatization of younger men wanting an older woman.
While all roads of stigmatization seemingly lead back to Nancy, the film is not afraid to challenge the stigma surrounding sex workers. Where Leo explains he goes around the law by providing comfort and company – and if sex happens it happens – it is hard for both Nancy and viewers to not see the night for what it is. An individual being paid to have sex with another. Leo Grande, both in film and in character, looks straight into the lens and directly at its audience asking – why is that a bad thing? It is not afraid to challenge our thinking or encourage conversation, drawing the stigma from the shadows and bringing it front and center. Why do we stigmatize those who find value in their bodies, and market them for the profit of themselves and those they are hired by?
Leo Grande proves itself to be an evenly paced film, taking its time with each stigma. The film builds to its climatic challenge on the power of the female orgasm. Whether it be the perceived belief that one can not orgasm or a societal belief that it is something we should not take about, Leo Grande strangely disagrees. By the film’s end, there is a euphoric feeling felt by the tenderness Hyde gives to the concept of the female orgasm capturing its empowerment and sense of healing.
Empowerment and the Healing Power of Sex
Sexuality can be one of the most intimate aspects of life a human can experience. When we accept and learn to love ourselves, our bodies, the thing we like and the things we don’t, we become champions of our own destiny. And with this satisfaction comes the understanding that our sexuality is directly tied to both our emotional and psychological well-being. To find the strength and comfort in ourselves to express what we truly want and truly want to feel in the most intimate of settings, that is a power and a strength. But it is not something that we can always just achieve. Like mental and physical health, our sexuality is something we should be exploring and working on – growing with. Leo Grande embraces this idea wholeheartedly.
The experience is empowering for both Nancy and Leo. But it is also healing. Audiences will find a relatability to each of their stories, as well as each of their journeys. As we watch them both explore and overcome, we see the healing power of sex in its empowerment and in its pure expression of emotion and desire. Where lust is considered a sin by some, Leo Grande sees it as a portal to healing the heart and the mind.
This has been one of my favorite films of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Fronted with phenomenal chemistry and performance from Thompson and McCormack, its intimate subject matter explodes on screen, challenging a variety of stigmas while welcoming its audience to enjoy the experience.
Have you seen Good Luck to You, Leo Grande? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande played at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 15, 2022 and will premiere on Hulu on June 17, 2022!
Watch Good Luck to You, Leo Grande
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.