‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’ review: Cheeky comedy centers older women’s sex life
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack in 'Good Luck to You, Leo Grande'.

If one were to go by mainstream Hollywood movies, it would seem that when a woman reaches the “wrong” side of 40 she is relegated to roles devoid of sex, desire, and adventure. Far too often, women of a certain age appear on our screens as mothers, aunts, or “wise” grandmothers whose sole purpose is to advise the younger (usually male) main character. The film Good Luck to You, Leo Grande seemingly says to hell with all that, and brazenly centers the sex life of an older woman with frank scenes about pleasure and societal pressures.

It’s a lighthearted comedy that takes on some pretty heavy material in a delicate yet impactful way. A film about a woman in her sixties, bare-breasted, aiming for the best orgasm of her life will make some people uncomfortable. Yet, it means the film is doing a fine job of challenging the boxes society determines women of all ages should be placed in over the course of their entire lives.

Directed by Sophie Hyde, with a screenplay written by Katy Brand, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande tells the story of a retired teacher named Nancy (played by Emma Thompson) who, two years after losing her husband, decides to hire a male sex worker with the possible goal of having her first orgasm ever. Through a number of sessions with Leo (Daryl McCormack), Nancy makes discoveries about herself, through her post-marital sexual awakening, as the two form a human connection.

One of the strongest aspects of the film is its dialogue. In a time of big blockbuster movies with plenty of explosions and changing set pieces, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, keeps it simple. This allows for the audience to feel like they’re privy to an intimate encounter with two strangers who they will come to know quite well by the end of the 97 minutes spent with them.

When the dialogue is the centerpiece, that means the acting and direction have to help to bring those words to life. Director Hyde does a masterful job with this. Most of the film takes place in a simple hotel room, and not once did I find myself bored with the chosen surroundings. As layers of the characters were peeled back, features of the room they were in were made to take on new dynamics as well. It reminded me of those black box theater shows where a little can go a long way.

And a little does go a long way in the film. This is a movie about sex. Yet sex, especially in Western society, can be unpacked to touch on so many issues in our world. More so the repression of it, depending on what group you belong to.

Although certain sectors of society would have you believe that sex is what Hollywood is usually all about, their definition of sex is often limited to one centering heterosexual male fantasies. Women in these fantasies are usually of a certain weight, age, and personality. Even stories of female empowerment, like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, have women under a certain age and fitting a particular style. What Hollywood is not filled with are stories about older women and their goals, wants, and needs beyond the roles they play as mothers, wives, or partners.

And, unfortunately, statistics back this up. According to a study conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that took a look at inequality across popular films ranging from 2007 to 2021, the representation of women 45 years of age or older on the big screen is abysmal. Of the top theatrical releases, male characters were more likely than females to be 40 or over. Female characters experienced a significant drop in representation from their thirties to their forties (34% to 18%). This is to be understood against a backdrop of females generally being less likely than their male counterparts to be main characters in major studio films, no matter their age.

That’s not to say that there have never been stories similar to Good Luck to You, Leo Grande where an older woman is the main character and is allowed to follow her desires. How Stella Got Her Groove Back comes to mind. Yet, this one is a recent movie that talks about sex in such a blunt way. There’s a fine balance struck between the whimsical feelings of pleasure and vitality vs. the technicalities of what a woman wants to feel in the bedroom.

Emma Thompson plays the imperfect and anxiety-filled Nancy. She has her own issues of internalized sexism that have kept her from going after what she truly wants. Thompson does so well in expressing the range of conflicting emotions Nancy constantly has swirling in her head. So much so that we, like Leo, may get exasperated with her at times, but we never tire of wanting to see how her journey will progress.

Daryl McCormack as Leo is a wonderful casting. McCormack shines with easygoing charm. Yet, through subtle moments, he shows that there’s more below the surface. Leo is not made to be Nancy’s shallow male fantasy with all the right answers. He’s not a product. He’s a working man providing a service with his own goals. This is crucial because if the dynamic was one-sided in the film, it would make Leo into just a “magical” person of color only there to serve the awakening of the white protagonist. And we’ve had more than enough of those types of movies.

The mythos that women stop living for themselves after they reach a certain point in their lives is one that harms women across all generations.

It makes women under 40 believe that there’s some ticking clock of when their “usefulness” fades away. Or that they have to follow some script regarding marriage and childbearing. It also makes women above 40 think they need to “move out of the way” for the next generation. But reality tells a different story, given that there are so many older women in positions of growing leadership in labor, politics, and their local communities.

There are those in power who benefit from such false and repressive narratives. It’s the exact reason that the popular saying “the personal is the political” is still relevant today. At one time in history, the female orgasm was regarded as a thing of fiction by male doctors! That might no longer be the case, but ours is still a male-dominated society that tells a woman what to do with her body and what is permitted to go in and out of it.

There are hints of these themes throughout the film. So, yes, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, is a simple enough, and very funny, movie. But there’s a good amount packed into it that will strike a chord with viewers of any age or gender.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande will be available on the Hulu streaming platform June 17, 2022.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.