The Daily Stream: Good Luck To You, Leo Grande Examines Aging And Sexuality In The Best Way

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Film and television have both attempted to break every boundary out there for decades, but one of the last frontiers seems to be a frank discussion of the repression and sexuality of women over 50. There have been some standouts, but for the most part, entertainment often ignores the idea of female pleasure. Add in the fact that a woman is older, and it's just not talked about. It's certainly not shown. 

Not only does "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande" address the sexuality of an older woman, but also the societal issues that can make it difficult to talk about. It's the story of Nancy (Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson), a retired religious education teacher with two adult children. Her husband passed away two years ago, and her sex life was anything but interesting. One position, no orgasms, ever. Now that her responsibilities are supposedly over, Nancy does something that would have been unthinkable to most of her generation's women. She hires a sex worker called Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack from "The Wheel of Time" and "Peaky Blinders") so she can experience everything she's missed out on. 

Of course, making a decision to do something for yourself, and doing it with joy can be two very different things. Nancy has a lifetime of pleasure to make up for, but she's a product of the repression of her generation, her marriage, and her profession. What she wants and what she needs are held back by a lifetime of being told that she should put everyone else's desires before her own. 

Why it's essential viewing

Along comes Leo Grande, a young man who takes joy from giving others pleasure. He's compassionate and patient with Nancy, who is nervous, twitchy, and has a written list of all the sexual milestones she wants to hit. Nothing seems to shake his calm. It's Nancy who can't relax. It's like she has a watcher over her shoulder, telling her to be practical. She starts to relax, then is snapped up by the way she thinks she looks, her age, her lack of experience, her children (one of whom calls far too often) ... in fact, she keeps slipping into treating Leo as a child, then catches herself, subsequently dealing with the embarrassment of that as well. 

What we see as the film goes on is the careful stripping away of the governors Nancy puts on herself, and not all of that is Leo's doing. As Nancy realizes exactly how much she's denied herself (and that society and expectations have denied her), she starts to find her own way and her own joy. 

Leo isn't just a catalyst here though. He's not merely a method for Nancy to figure herself out, despite the way it first appears. He's a person who has dealt with his own powerful demons, and judgment about his profession and choices. The film is anything but one-sided.

An ignored subject

This is a small film in terms of scope. In fact, it feels like a play, with almost every moment spent in the room with only Leo and Nancy. However, unlike a play, the camera is right up in their faces and in particular, their eyes. It adds so much to the intimacy of what we're seeing. You deeply feel how uncomfortable with herself Nancy is, and how much it scares her to let down her guard. She's approaching the whole deal as a teacher would, practically. In a way, revealing her vulnerabilities and her shame around sex and her own body is more intimate than the sex is for her. 

With the camera this close, you see every moment that the armor slips, and the fight she puts up to keep that armor on. You can see Leo's mask fading as time goes on as well, and the pain they both have brings them closer together than any joining of bodies does. 

There has been a lot of discussion about the acceptance of every body type, and being proud of who you are, but sometimes that leaves older generations out. For that group, especially for women, it's not just about having the rest of the world see you as sexy or desirable as you age. It's about feeling sexy and desirable yourself. I think though, that the most powerful moment in the film is what Nancy discovers about herself, rather than what Leo helps her discover. 

Not only is this a beautiful story, but it's a masterclass in acting, with brilliant and heartfelt performances from both Thompson and McCormack. As I said, it's a small film, but it's one that has an important message about not just accepting who we are, but about letting go of the mistakes we've made or how others have judged us, and finding joy in existence right now.