EMMA Thompson has established herself as one of today’s finest actresses with outstanding performances in “Howards End” (for which she won an Oscar in 1992), “The Remains of the Day” and “In the Name of the Father” (for both of which she got Oscar nominations again, both in 1993), and “Sense and Sensibility” (for which she won another Oscar, but this time for best adapted screenplay in 1995).
She also showed her talent for comedy in lighter vehicles like “Love Actually”, “Nanny McPhee”, “Men in Black” and “Beauty and the Beast” as Mrs. Potts. She now comes up with another award-worthy performance in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”, a British sex comedy now showing on Hulu where she bravely does full frontal nudity at the age of 63.
The film is set mostly inside a hotel room and can very well be a stage play. It’s very pandemic in style since there’s only one location and only two major characters: Emma as Nancy Stokes and Daryl McCormack as the sex worker she hired, Leo Grande.
Nancy is a retired religion teacher whose husband is the only man she ever knew. He died two years ago and she divulges to Leo that they had a boring sex life. They don’t do oral sex as her husband finds it so demeaning. Nancy has never reached a real climax and she just fakes her orgasm.
Nancy shares all her anxieties with Leo, who is very patient and reassuring with her, just listening to her as she tells stories about her two grown up children who she says both disappoint her. Leo, in turn, says he keeps his work as a male prostitute a secret to his family and makes them believe he is really working in an oil rig.
Their relationship happens over four meetings that have its own flow and rhythm and get more and more intimate each time. Written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hye, this kind of material is risky to do and can only work if the two lead players have the right chemistry in handling their very frank scenes together. They find the perfect players in Emma and Dylan.
The way they look and listen to each other, the way they react, and dance, and do massage and intimate scenes all seem very authentic. Emma as the unhappy widow who books a sex worker via the internet gives a portrayal that is full of both touching and funny moments, all beautifully nuanced. She is at first scared, afraid Leo might find her body gross, and she also worries about him being exploited or demeaned in his job.
A shining moment is when she recalls the most exhilarating sexual experience she ever felt when she was vacationing with her family in Greece. She was a teenager and she was attracted to a waiter in the hotel who followed her in the garden and became intimate with her very briefly. She said she never felt or experienced it again.
Dylan as Leo is extremely good looking. We first saw him in the heist movie, “Pixie”, with Olivia Cooke and he didn’t quite make an impression. But here, he is perfectly groomed to be a hunky eye candy who is confident of himself and very understanding to the needs of his client.
He doesn’t pass judgment on her but is just responsive to all her queries. McCormack handles his character with much persuasion, specially when Nancy pushes him and he becomes teary eyed as he talks about the troubled aspects of his own life. It reminds us of Richard Gere in “American Gigolo”.
What transpires between them is not just sexual but tackles other subjects like the aging process, problems with their relationships with their respective families, the pleasures of both emotional and sexual intimacy and, after a while, it becomes apparent that the human interaction between them acts as some sort of cathartic therapy or healing experience for both of them.
In the end, when Nancy finally stands in front of a mirror and stares at her nude body, you know that she has bared not only her body but even her soul and all her emotions have been laid naked in the movie. It is really such a liberating experience. And yes, their names are not really Nancy and Leo but Susan and Conner.
So good luck to you, Emma and Dylan, hope your fine performances here will not be forgotten come next year’s awards-giving season.