Reviews by Joyce Glasser Good luck to you Leo Grande (June 17, 2022) Certificate 15, 98 mins
Since Michael Hanekes love won his Oscar in 2012, the number of films about older people with older actors has grown exponentially, as have the themes. Now comes a film that bravely deals with the subject of sex and the self-confident single woman when the woman is a sexually unsatisfied middle-aged widow and mother of two adult children. Abandoned by Katy Brand’s script and Sophie Hyde’s stage direction, the Zweihander owes it all to the stars: Emma Thompson as Nancy Stokes and Daryl McCormack as Leo Grande, the professional sex worker Nancy hires to make up for lost time.
The setup is the catch. Nancy Stokes, a widow and former religion teacher, is nervously waiting in her hotel room for a one-off date (with limited funds) with male prostitute Leo Grande. Leo sells himself and prides himself on being a one stop shop for all sexual needs. Did Leo Grande meet his match?
The film is divided into Meeting 1 (which Nancy claims will be the last), Meeting 2, and Meeting 3, though those captions are a lazy substitute for what the decor, costumes, and actors’ body language were meant to convey . We should be able to immediately distinguish the second meeting from the first. Hyde’s filmmaking doesn’t do much to get us in the sex mood either, although maybe that’s the point.
Nancy, who married a virgin and has never had affairs, faked orgasms throughout her marriage to her husband, and now she wants to find out why people are raving about sex. However, her cold body betrays her desires and pokes fun at the schoolmother’s checklist to accomplish in the limited session.
The same game is played throughout the film: Leo sets the mood and Nancy shatters it in various Freudian ways. When she’s not just hiding in the bathroom, she’s talking about her boring husband and son. And then she tries to get intimate with her would-be lover, not with her body but by asking him the insistent questions. These, too, destroy the atmosphere and begin to irritate the steadfast professional.
Because Leo also has problems with self-esteem. As Nancy puts on a negligee, he surveys his perfect body in the mirror, not really questioning Nancy’s resistance, instead taking stock of the fruits of years of work at the gym. Physique matters a lot, but it’s Leo’s ability to transcend a customer’s psychological barriers and “read” them that allows him to charge high prices. When letting go doesn’t work, they can try role-playing, a technique he suggests to break through Nancy’s fear.
Nancy shudders at the thought. RPGs are too shabby. Or maybe it’s just what she’s been doing all her life as a staid religion teacher, homemaker, wife who fakes an orgasm, and mother of two whom she dutifully pretends to love. And in many ways the role suits her, as Nancy appears to have no outside interests, is condescending and unfunny.
Leo has a hard time telling her she’s sexy, even though she’s built her life around not being sexy, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, Leo is the consummate role player. If Nancy isn’t Nancy’s real name, Leo Grande is a professional pseudonym. His image must be the perfect lover whose only thoughts are with his client’s needs. This is not a regular date and his private life is nobody’s business. Of course, Nancy asks more questions than half a semester quiz. Her maternal or schoolmotherly curiosity might be another delay mechanism designed to quash the lecherous mood, but her revelation that her son is a bore touches a sore spot in Leo, whose family may or may not believe he works on an oil rig . For his mother he is a failure, not a successful entrepreneur who has found his niche.
Unfortunately, Leo’s big secret about his private life is not only anticlimactic, but also immature and unconvincing. Ditto for most of the dialogue and the sex (if any) which is meant to be a lot funnier. Isn’t that why comedian Katy Brand got the job? When a former student serves Nancy and Leo at the hotel’s cafe, Nancy’s honesty isn’t cathartic, it’s embarrassing. It goes a step too far, like a formerly oppressed woman’s need to brag about her transformation.
And while on one level the film is about the ability to explore your sexuality late in life, it’s also age appropriate in many ways.
“I don’t want an old man, I want a young man,” Nancy insists to Leo before revealing her contempt for aging. “I’m just a shady old pervert – I feel like Rolf Harris!” Although Leo’s naked body sends shivers down Nancy’s half-clothed spine, she can’t appreciate it without being reminded of her own flabby body, where the love handles are more obvious than the muscle tone.
“I want to be young again,” Nancy admits, but there’s no indication she was happier or freer in her youth. When she tells Leo how she used to scold girls for wearing short dresses, she seems convinced that it was to protect her from would-be rapists and not out of envy of her skinny legs. At one point – and that’s certainly not the point of the film – one wonders if her husband’s refusal to engage in oral, anal, and experimental sex was less a lack of imagination than a fear of offending his wife.
And while Thompson is 63, her character is fifty-five, as if being middle-aged is more acceptable than being sixty. Also, teachers don’t retire until age 65, although her husband’s inheritance might have enabled her to take early retirement. And while Thompson’s nudity is admirable, there are 55- and 65-year-olds who aren’t models who have really (and of course) great bodies.
It’s odd that a film about sex couldn’t be more arousing, but perhaps Hyde’s goal is to make us squirm with Nancy rather than enjoy it. None of that changes when, as the culmination (pun intended) of her makeup-free, non-photoshopped performance, Thompson bravely bares everything and confronts her own imperfect body.
Despite Emma Thompson’s brave efforts, a tantalizing premise is never fulfilled in Sophie Hyde’s subtly aged and staged film.
Source link Despite Emma Thompson’s brave efforts, a tantalizing premise is never fulfilled in Sophie Hyde’s subtly aged and staged film.