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Happily Ever After: Review of Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Daryl McCormack and Emma Thompson in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande - a movie about an older woman's sexual exploration

Susan Robinson is a retired religious ethics teacher who is recently widowed after 31 years of marriage. She is desperate for an adventure and makes a plan. She poses as Nancy Stokes and hires a male escort, Leo Grande, to tick off several items on her sexual exploration bucket list.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande starts off in a hotel room with Emma Thompson portraying Nancy nervously fussing with her clothes and looks. She is clearly out of her comfort zone and very nervous about the events she has set in motion – hiring a sex worker. Leo, played by Daryl McCormack, is also nervous, but puts on a confident look. He is young, good looking and physically fit. He senses Nancy’s nervousness and tries to put her at ease by striking up a conversation. He asks Nancy about her sexual fantasy and Nancy is taken aback. She thinks for a while before answering that just having sex is a fantasy. She shares that she has never had an orgasm, and has never had sex with anyone other than her husband with whom sex was boring, predictable, and never deviated from the routine missionary position. She admits that she faked orgasms and has decided that she will never ever do that again.

In the first meeting with Leo, one can see how nervous and skittish Nancy is. The tension is apparent on her face and in her body. The two-hour session with Leo is largely spent in talking. He asks her questions to calm her down but she is also curious about his life and continuously asks questions about his job, about his family and what his mother thinks about his profession. He admits that he does not have a great relationship with his mother and that he has lied about his profession, posting pictures on Facebook of work in an oil-rig. However, he is not comfortable talking about his personal life and on several occasions has to remind Nancy that she is intruding into his personal space. Nancy, being a former religious ethics teacher, is very curious and concerned about the current situation – her hiring a male sex worker, potentially exploiting his vulnerability. Leo assures her that it is not exploitative as this is his work and he enjoys it and believes he is helping people feel comfortable in their bodies or addressing whatever need that they have. He gives her examples where one client asked him to dress as a cat and they spent the entire two hours just being together with no sexual activity, whilst another only wanted to be held. Nancy is drawn to Leo not just because he is a calming influence but also because he seems intellectual, using sophisticated vocabulary in his conversation.

In the second meeting, Nancy seems a bit more relaxed and has prepared a list of sexual activities she would like to engage in. Leo is surprised that she has booked him a second time and he is amused by her ambition to check off all the items on her list in one session. He calmly addresses her remaining fears and slowly Nancy appears to relax and enjoy the moment. By the third session, Nancy is completely relaxed and is ready to share her real name and more details about her life. Over the three sessions we learn that she has two grown up children who she has a difficult relationship with. On the one hand, she has a son who she finds boring, though she is proud of his accomplishments as a scholar. On the other, she has a complicated relationship with her daughter, an artist, who lives a bohemian lifestyle that Nancy secretly envies. Throughout her life, Nancy has walked the straight and narrow, never really going out of her comfort zone or experimenting with anything that might go against her morality. She remembers an incident in Greece when she was on holiday with her parents as a teenager. She found one of the resort staff very attractive and they shared a brief kiss in the gardens before they were interrupted. That incident has become a fantasy, reminding her of the possibilities that might have been, and a stark reminder that she might have let life pass her by. But with Leo, she is beginning to come alive again.

Nancy starts digging into Leo’s personal life and has found out his real name. It upsets him and he accuses her of cyber-stalking him. He storms out of the hotel room and she is confused because she was beginning to feel comfortable with him whilst he was treating their relationship purely as a transaction. Nancy books a fourth meeting but this time she suggests meeting in the coffee shop of the hotel. She is not sure Leo will turn up. Whilst she is waiting, the waitress introduces herself as one of her former students. Nancy in this episode looks very different and you can see the change the sessions have made to her confidence. She dresses differently, has her hair in a chic style and her demeanour is self-assured, a stark contrast to the very first scene in the movie. Leo does show up and Nancy introduces herself with her real name, Mrs Robinson, a veiled reference to the famous song by Simon and Garfunkel. The movie continues, but having said enough, I shall say no more about what happens next. 

The plot very nicely moves between Nancy and Leo, constantly giving us glimpses into their past lives which explains their current situation. The topic itself – an older woman seeking sexual pleasure with a younger man – is handled beautifully and delicately, without falling into sentimental mush. Emma Thompson shows us what a great actress she is as she plays her role to perfection and Daryl McCormack holds his own with an equally impressive performance.

This film reminds us of the power of connections in finding pleasure, joy, confidence and healing. It is not only about sexual pleasure which many people are afraid to experience, but also our own inhibitions when it comes to our bodies. Like Nancy, many people are ashamed of their bodies, afraid to show their emotions, embarrassed to explore sexual pleasure and as a result, forego many opportunities and possibilities to discover different facets of their personalities. However, being brave, doing something outside of one’s comfort zone, trusting in someone else, can help one discover who one wants to be and how. It is the connection between the two characters that helps Nancy transition from a nervous, sexually frustrated older woman into one who is more assured and confident of herself and comfortable in her body. In the course of four meetings, Nancy and Leo are able to connect on a personal level, within the boundaries of their professional relationship, to be able to meaningfully heal each other in some way. Even though the two characters start off as strangers, by the end of the film they have journeyed together as friends and confidantes.

Most women throughout their lives sacrifice their time and energy doing things for others and in the process forget who they really are. So often dreams are forgotten in the pursuit of survival. Menopause is a time in one’s life where the body is changing, often in unflattering ways, and so are emotions, making us vulnerable. But it is also a moment to reflect, pause and re-evaluate one’s life goals and make adjustments so that one can be happy. Just as we could “go back to school” or “go back to work”, we can find ways to learn more about ourselves, and if we need help from others to do so, there is nothing wrong with it. It is never too late to experience pleasure and it is never too late to find new appreciation for our body. This film reminds us that “happily ever after” can come about in many different forms, and that being comfortable in one’s body and appreciating the present moment is one of them.

Cover Image: IMDb