Sophie Hyde

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

27/06/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Hmm.

I accept that ‘hmm’ isn’t the most promising of openings to a film review, but it’s the best I can muster for the inelegantly titled Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, directed by Sophie Hyde. It’s possibly the most mixed bag of a movie ever, with lots to admire – but lots to wince at too.

Emma Thompson, of course, falls into the former category. She’s a terrific actor. Here, she’s playing Nancy, a retired widow with a mission: to have an orgasm. A former RE teacher, Nancy has only ever had boring sex with her husband. Now he’s dead, but she’s still alive, and she’s determined not to waste the time she has left. The answer? A sex worker. Enter the titular Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack), purveyor of fantasies at an hourly rate.

But can Nancy let go enough to, well… let herself go?

We find out via a series of encounters, all in the same bland hotel room, although the focus is usually on what happens around the sex – the conversations and revelations that occur as Nancy negotiates the minefield of paid-for physical contact.

Katy Brand’s script is agonisingly funny in places: she nails Nancy’s ‘oh so British’ embarrassment, her tendency to overthink out loud, to chatter her discomfort. Thompson clearly revels in these moments, and – as a character study – the film is a roaring success. It’s also bold in its addressing of an older woman’s sexuality. The tone is set early on, when Leo describes Nigella Lawson as “sexy”. Nancy waits for him to add the obligatory “for her age” but Leo demurs. “She’s empirically sexy,” he says. And, over time, Nancy learns to like her own body too, to stop apologising for her tummy and her saggy boobs, to accept herself the way she is.

McCormack is a relative newcomer, but it seems likely he’s a big career ahead. The camera loves him, and he embodies the role well, slowly revealing the steel behind the soft exterior. “I’m who you want me to be,” says Leo, perfectly fulfilling his contract – but his boundaries are clear, and he’s protective of his ‘real’ self.

There is some attempt to deal with ethical issues, but this feels a little glib. Nancy talks about the essay she used to set her students: ‘Should sex work be legalised?’ She mentions trafficking and violence against female sex workers. Leo tells her her enjoys his work, that he doesn’t want to be painted as a ‘poor little orphan’ to suit someone else’s conscience. They reach an uneasy consensus, agreeing that sex therapy should be available ‘from the council’ (though heaven knows what that would be like). And I know it’s a complex subject, that sex workers often object to being cast as victims, when many of them have agency and choice – and who am I to tell them that they’re wrong – but I don’t think this gives us carte blanche to ignore the exploitation and misery that undeniably exists as well. And Leo is so very clean-cut that the whole thing appears curiously unsexy, so wholesome that it seems to be in denial about the gritty physicality involved. This version of sex work is not so much glamourised as defanged.

So, ‘hmm’ it is. I enjoy watching Leo Grande but I’m unconvinced by it. And if you’re a teacher? Maybe don’t tell your ex-pupils about your sex life. It’s not empowering; it’s just weird.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Film Bouquets 2019

Bouquets&Brickbats

Bouquets&Brickbats

Bouquets&Brickbats

It’s that time again when we award (virtual) bouquets to our favourite films of the year. As ever, the final choice may not always reflect the films that scored the highest at time of viewing, but rather those that have stayed with us most indelibly.

The Favourite (director – Yorgos Lanthimos; writers – Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)

Capernaum (director – Nadine Labaki; writers – Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily and Michelle Keserwany)

Eighth Grade (writer/director – Bo Burnham)

Booksmart (director – Olivia Wilde; writers – Emily Halperm, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman)

Beats (director – Brian Welsh; writer – Kieran Hurley)

Rocketman (director – Dexter Fletcher; writer – Lee Hall)

Animals (director – Sophie Hyde; writer – Emma Jane Unsworth)

Hustlers (director – Lorene Scafaria; writers – Lorene Scafaria and Jessica Pressler)

Joker (director – Todd Phillips; writers – Todd Phillips and Scott Silver)

Monos (director – Alejandro Landes; writers – Alejandro Landes and Alexis Dos Santos)

Honey Boy (director – Alma Har’el; writer – Shia LaBeouf)

Little Women (director – Greta Gerwig; writers – Greta Gerwig and Louisa May Alcott)

 

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

 

 

Animals

16/07/19

A big hit at this year’s Sundance Festival, Animals is an engaging film about friendship and hedonism. Written by Emma Jane Unsworth, based on her novel, and directed by Sophie Hyde, it’s the story of two women living in Dublin – coffee shop baristas by day and dedicated party animals by night. The two of them have a fierce and loyal friendship and they share a predilection for wine, drugs and casual sex with random strangers.

Indeed, Laura (Holliday Grainger) and Tyler (Alia Shawkat) have elevated the act of getting wasted into a fine art. The trouble is, they are now thirty-ish and the people around them – including Laura’s older sister, Jean (Amy Molloy), herself a former wild child – are taking their feet off the accelerator and settling down. What’s more, Laura has long-nurtered a desire to be an author but, after years of sporadic work, she’s only managed to produce ten pages of decent writing.

She thinks she’s hit a turning point when she meets Jim (Fra Fee), a talented and dedicated classical pianist, who rarely takes a drink and consistently avoids late nights. The two of them fall for each other, and Laura starts to seriously consider marrying him, but this drives a wedge between her and Tyler, who is admant that she will not change her spots. And then louche would-be poet, Marty (Dermott Murphy), a man not unfamiliar with booze and drugs, wanders into the scenario and casts his gaze in Laura’s direction. Things get even more complicated…

There are two superb performances at the heart of this belated coming-of-age story. Shawkat is a quirky delight but it’s Grainger who does most of the heavy lifting here, managing to convey Laura’s conflicted persona with consummate skill. Anybody who has experienced some debauchery in their youth – and let’s face it, that covers most of us – will identify with this story. Laura’s discovery that to be a successful writer requires hours of dedication is no great revelation, but it’s eloquently told and well worth saying.  This may be a well-trodden story arc, but it manages to cleverly avoid the clichés. Laura doesn’t need rescuing, she doesn’t need to take drastic measures, she merely needs to exercise a little control over her own life. It’s unusual to find a movie with two female leads and, after the poor performance of the fabulous Booksmart, let’s hope Animals does as well as it deserves. It is well worth your attention.

And you can discuss it afterwards… preferrably over a bottle of wine.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney