I seem to dislike Sundance darlings, it seems, because Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, was met with the same level of praise as CODA did back in 2021. That movie won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize at the festival, surprisingly leading it to the Academy Awards when it won Best Picture. After seeing the film, I was highly indifferent, thinking it was a mediocre remake of an already mediocre (and highly problematic) movie. I didn’t know it would win any award other than Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars.
Of course, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, wasn’t as egregious as CODA, but it was still a disappointing viewing experience, especially having heard so many *incredible* things from critics who saw the film when it premiered at Sundance. Credit where credit is due: the film’s two main leads, played by Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, are excellent. But the movie itself doesn’t feel like it deserves them.
Thompson plays Nancy Stokes, a recently widowed retired teacher looking for pleasure in a life with little self-fulfillment. She decides to hire a sex worker named Leo Grande (McCormack) to find happiness away from her boring life. However, the two share intimate moments, start to open up about their insecurities, and quickly become friends. The premise is fine, but the execution leaves little to be desired.
The main problem with the movie is how cyclical it is at repeating the same emotional beats from the characters repeatedly. The film is divided into four meetings, as the characters will only meet four times, and each session repeats the same situation and adds little depth to the protagonists. For example, there’s the will they/won’t they have sex in the first two meetings that stick both characters into repetitive dialogued scenes (before they end up having sex). It barely changes how they think about each other until the third meeting occurs and Nancy pries on Leo’s personal life.
That’s where the emotional catharsis of the movie stars gets strong, but the audience has likely checked out by then since the movie couldn’t help but say the same things ad nauseam: Nancy wants to have sex. Oh, wait, she doesn’t. Oh, no, now she does. Ah, let’s just forget it while Leo tries to calm her down. I understand that there’s a particular pleasure in seeing Nancy have second thoughts before she decides to “free herself.” Still, the screenplay goes to so many lengths in having her repeat bits of dialogue she said two minutes ago seems like the screenwriter Katy Brand had no idea where the movie was going. Of course, Nancy has hesitation, but uncertainty shouldn’t translate into repetitive dialog scenes.
And you’d think that things will change once Leo and Nancy end up having sex, but there isn’t a shift in character at all. We’re treated with the same bits of dialogues, with no added emotions to their arcs. At some point, the relationship grows more intimate because Nancy admits to Leo she knows who his real name is, but without that, the movie would’ve stayed in the same platitudes until the end. A character-driven drama, set in the exact location, with little to no character growth, isn’t excellent and did little to hold my interest until it started to delve into the “drama” part of the movie.
The last bit of the third meeting and the fourth was my favorite parts of the film because the characters became more rounded and fleshed out. Still, I wondered if we needed over an hour of the same situations, with slight variation in dialogues and character development, to get to that point. Unfortunately, the answer is unequivocally no, even if Thompson and McCormack do their best to elevate the material.
Without them leading the picture, who knows if it would’ve gotten the same praise it did at Sundance. Probably not. Yes, they’re that good in it, particularly during the last meeting. It almost felt like a completely different movie than the one they were in since the mood shifts, the dialogue is sharp, and the characters become more human. If only that were the entire movie, but Good Luck to You, Leo Grande ends when it started to be good.
It’s a shame that the movie didn’t live up to the Sundance hype, even if Thompson and McCormack give their all in every scene. They’re riveting to watch together and chew up every ounce of screentime they can get. But the script’s ridiculously cyclical dialogues and situations, coupled with the most standard aesthetic possible, make it a pretty dour (and stale) viewing experience that lacks any ounce of emotional bite and leaves you reasonably cold by the time it ends. Yes, I may be in the [small] minority on this, but a few things in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande worked for me. The same could happen to you, but you’ll only be able to find that out if you stream it this weekend. The choice is yours.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is now streaming on Hulu in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video internationally.