Older women’s bodies, not to mention their sexuality, are something no one wants to think or talk about, least of all older women themselves. What everyone tells you when you’re young eventually becomes true: at a certain age—maybe 50, maybe 60—you become invisible to most other people on the street, especially men. But at that point, you may find, it’s other women your age and older who look at you more. We look to see what others are doing with their hair, how they’re dealing with the post-middle-age tummy situation, what colors they choose now that some of the old favorites no longer suit. In my experience, it’s less like competition and more like camaraderie. We’re all being not looked at, together.
Good Luck To You, Leo Grande—from Australian director Sophie Hyde, with a script by Katy Brand—is the first great movie, in a long time, for the invisibles. Emma Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a 55-year-old widow whose sex life did the trick for her in the conceiving-children department—she has two, now grown—but which has otherwise been distinctly routine and unsatisfactory. So she hires Leo McCormack (Daryl McCormack) as her sex worker. Peaky Blinders), to see if he might help her find whatever has been missing, if it’s findable at all.
When Leo comes to the hotel room she’s rented, they spend a great deal of time talking—or, rather, Leo, one of those people who has a gift for putting others at ease, tries to tease her out of her fluttery nervousness, which carries more than a whiff of judgment about Leo himself. She asks him if his mother knows what he does for a living, a subject he clearly doesn’t want to talk about. She wants to know if he’s a damaged runaway with a hard-luck story. This is a misguided approach that she appears to use to assuage her guilt and shame. Leo eventually reveals to her that she cannot social-work her way into an orgasm. It took almost forever.
Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack, and Emma Thompson appear in Good Luck To You Leo Grande
A kiss is the end of every visit. There are also second and third visits. During these visits Nancy gradually lets go of her control while Leo helps her to let go of her self-degrading thoughts about herself, her body, and her life. They spend time in bed—there’s sex in Leo Grande, I think, or maybe it’s really just more the SuggestionOf sex. In any event, the movie is sexy, not least because it revels in the idea that great sex comes from a connection that goes beyond what’s merely physical—and this can be true, of course, even when the sex is paid for. Leo loves what he does, and he’s good at it, because he likes talking to women and finding out what they want and need. Nancy is the one who attempts to project her shame onto Leo, nearly to the point that he quits on her. Although his patience is endless in bed, Nancy quickly realizes that he has a private life and we see him not only as a beautiful companion, but also as someone who can play different roles for different people.
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Hyde and Brand tackle all of these delicate ideas with agility and humor, and the repartee—including the arguments—between Nancy and Leo feel lived in, like rumpled sheets. McCormack is wonderful, playing a guy who’s confident in his own beauty without being a jerk about it. There’s a fantastic moment when, on his way to meet Nancy for the first time, he stops to check his reflection in a shop window, straightening his coat with a look that tells us he knows how fine he is.
The trick is, he will do it however he pleases. He looks, he’s still more interested in looking at others. When his eyes are fixed upon Nancy, he cannot help but find pleasure in the situation. When we first see her, she’s entering that hotel room in a dowdy skirt, with prim shoes that don’t help (she’s a former religious-ed teacher, and she dresses like it.) She changes into a pair of suede kitten heels—much better. And after Leo arrives, she gets up the courage to slip into the bathroom to change into a slinky peignoir ensemble—having forgotten, of course, to remove the price tag under her armpit, as Leo later discovers, teasing her about it.
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, Good Luck To You Leo Grande
Thompson is a great actor. But she has a different level. Her vulnerability and confidence as an actress blend into something wonderful. She’s unafraid to explore Nancy’s prickliness—some of the things she says to Leo are simply awful, betraying a deep judgmental streak. The film is beautifully shot—never has hotel-room light looked so meltingly sensual and luxurious. Thompson is also able to use this film well. She’s gorgeous to look at, not because she has no wrinkles (she does), but because her skin is so luminous. She is the perfect example of what every wrinkle-averse 20-year-old or 30-year-old should see. Good Luck To You, Leo Grande to unlock an essential secret before it’s too late: you can have a dull, expressionless face with zero wrinkles, but great skin plusIt’s a great look to have wrinkles.
The movie’s most exhilarating moment comes at the very end, a moment in which Nancy surveys herself in the mirror, almost fully nude. We see everything she does—the sagging skin around the stomach, the breasts that have given up trying to defy gravity. Thompson, now 63 years old, spoke about this scene in interviews. She stressed how hard it was for Thompson to bear all of this. But she must know—or let’s hope she knows—that the look on her face, on Nancy’s face, as she surveys and at last makes peace with this weathered landscape of a body, is like the click of a light switch. It is disrespectful to spend even one moment feeling miserable about our skins, which we are all at times. Thompson makes it clear that we all know this in our hearts.
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