Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Coming of Age, by David Bax
Sophie Hyde’s Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is not based on a play, even though three of its four acts take place in the same room with the same two actors (the fourth adds a waitress and moves the setting just downstairs). It just feels that way. The truth is, it would probably work better in that format. But with Emma Thompson in the lead role, it could never be as flat as the worst stage-to-screen adaptations.
When the film’s title appears on screen, it does so in the kind of exaggerated, splashy font you might associated with early color films from the late 1930s or early 1940s. That’s really the only bit of overt stylization in the whole movie, though. Hyde mostly sticks to classical framing ingredients (wide shot, two shot, over the shoulder, close-up) but it’s never phoned in. The compositions are of professional quality and the simple luxury provided by the art department–the movie is set mostly in a chic but practical hotel room–add texture. The point is to keep our focus on the characters.
Texture is also a good word to describe the movie’s score. There’s little music in the traditional sense. Mostly, composer Stephen Rennicks, best known for his collaborations with director Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, Room, The Little Stranger), provides atmosphere, sounds that aren’t exactly natural but that still keep you from feeling that this hotel room exists in the middle of outer space somewhere.
In the strictest sense, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande‘s story is that of a woman in late middle age, a widow and retired schoolteacher named Nancy (Thompson), who’s never had an orgasm. She’s never had much sexual experience at all, really, apart from the apparently unremarkable motions she went through with her late husband. But the orgasm gives us a goal, an achievement to cross off the list while she still can.
Nancy has enlisted for this task a sex worker named Leo (Daryl McCormack). He’s not only young and beautiful but, much to Nancy’s approval, he’s intelligent and interesting to boot. He is, perhaps, a little too perfect. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande‘s biggest fault is its imbalance. Leo has an arc of his own but the screenplay mostly sticks to the conceit of the former teacher having become the student, which occasionally makes it feel as if Nancy is being punished or getting some kind of comeuppance. That seems like a bit of salt in the wound of an already vulnerable and sympathetic woman.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is at its best, though, when confronting ingrained assumptions about age and desirability. Desire doesn’t go away when youth does, yet we insist that desirability ought to, as if people–women especially–past a certain age should hang up their cravings or feel ashamed if they don’t. But the cultural meaning of age is changing. And there are some ways in which people can never stop growing unless they choose to.