Write this down: Emma Thompson will be nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.
Before we get into her latest movie, let’s unpack a brief history of sex work in film, which is, by the way, a major plot point in Thompson’s flick.
One of cinema’s most famous examples, Pretty Woman, also got it the most wrong.
It peddled the classic Hollywood trope of the hooker with a heart of gold, while largely glossing over the reality of prostitution in favour of having Julia Roberts strut around in thigh-high boots.
Her Pretty Woman co-star, Richard Gere, was a more believable prostitute in American Gigolo, but even that film fell into the Hollywood habit of linking sex work with other criminal activity.
That’s the thing about sex work, sometimes it’s just that — work — and, like your job, it’s probably mostly boring and unremarkable for the people who do it.
If you want a more realistic depiction of the sex industry, check out Sean Baker’s Tangerine.
So, where does Good Luck to You, Leo Grande sit?
Well, somewhere in the middle.
The film maintains an extremely narrow scope, almost exclusively confined to a single hotel room, as it chronicles multiple meetings between Thompson’s character, a 55-year-old widow named Nancy, and a much younger male prostitute named Leo.
As if the age difference isn’t enough to generate some awkward moments, this is by far the most sexually adventurous thing Nancy has ever done in her entire prim and proper life, and the only encounter since the death of her husband.
But as she gets talking to Leo, who’s played with a laid-back Irish charm by Peaky Blinders star Daryl McCormack, the pair connect on a deeper level.
Emboldened by the relative anonymity of confiding secrets to a stranger, Nancy opens up about the disdain she feels for her children, while Leo reveals details about his own mother.
However, as Leo frequently reminds his client, these sessions are all about Nancy, and awakening a long dormant sensuality the retired religious education teacher had all but given up on.
It should come as exactly zero surprise that Thompson is ideally suited to this role.
Her ability to display a fierce intellect and quiet pride, while simultaneously showing us vulnerability and deep-seated insecurity, fully realises who this character is supposed to be.
Aussie director Sophie Hyde, who is building quite an impressive resume, wisely gets out of the way, which, in itself, is a significant skill for any filmmaker.
McCormack is engaging as the other half of this two-hander, but his character feels less authentic, because it panders to a naively romanticised notion of sex work.
Maybe there really are young, philosopher/guru gigolos out there, but one suspects there ain’t many.
But this film really hinges on Thompson’s vanity free performance, which includes full nudity, and a statement on sexuality and life after 50 that’s so incredibly rare in movies that it offers as much education as entertainment.