BRIAN VINER reviews Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Emma Thompson bares body and soul in this touching tale of sexual awakening: BRIAN VINER reviews Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande (15, 97 mins)

Verdict: Intimate and honest

Rating:

Men seeking sexual satisfaction with much younger women, be they wives, girlfriends, mistresses, prostitutes or concubines, have been a mainstay of cinematic storytelling ever since the silent era. Woody Allen practically built a career out of it.

Switch the genders and you have to rack your brains. Daniel Craig and Anne Reid got it on across a 32-year age gap in The Mother (2003), and I can think of a few other pictures down the years, but what’s the ratio? Maybe 10,000 to one?

Sure, cinema largely reflects society. But there is also plenty of hypocrisy, and a good deal of moral spluttering, when a film comes along in which a woman beds a much younger man. There was even some earlier this year directed at Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, a movie brimming with wit, charm and innocence, but chronicling the relationship between Gary, in his mid teens, and Alana, aged 25.

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, where Emma Thompson plays widowed Nancy, a former RE teacher to boot, who doesn’t just have sex with a guy barely a third of her age, but pays for it

So batten down the hatches in readiness for Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, in which Emma Thompson plays widowed Nancy, a former RE teacher to boot, who doesn’t just have sex with a guy barely a third of her age, but pays for it.

The Peaky Blinders actor Daryl McCormack plays a male escort, who has adopted the name Leo Grande.

Until the last of four separate acts, Sophie Hyde’s funny, moving, thought-provoking film, smartly scripted by comedian Katy Brand, features just these two characters in a series of hotel-room trysts. There is duly a slightly theatrical feel to proceedings, but such is the quality of both the acting and writing, it never feels stagey.

Classic Movie On TV 

The African Queen (1951) 

The story that London’s parakeet population started when a pair escaped from the set of John Huston’s movie, starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, is said to be apocryphal. Either way, the film is a lasting pleasure. 

Saturday, 2.45pm, BBC2 

When we (and Leo) first meet her, Nancy is a bag of nerves. It is two years since the death of her husband Robert, the only man she has ever been to bed with — ‘there are nuns out there with more sexual experience,’ she says — and now she has decided that she wants to hire an escort.

Even when Robert was alive, theirs was a robotic sex life which always left her ‘disappointed’. But the arrival of this handsome, self-assured, worldly young Irishman plunges her into self-doubt. The age difference alone is alarming. Does she really want to go through with it?

Leo has a quick wit and abundant charm. He tells Nancy he likes her perfume. ‘Coco Chanel . . . Nigella Lawson wears it,’ she gabbles by way of reply. Leo says he finds Nigella sexy. Nancy waits for him to add ‘for her age’. But he doesn’t. He is a man in complete command of their transactional situation, overcoming its potential for awkwardness by effortlessly flirting with her.

Yet his confidence intensifies her own mounting anxiety, compounded by phone calls from her grown-up daughter, who, of course, has no idea what her mother is up to.

Leo tells her that his oldest customer was 82, which makes her feel a little better, but she cannot shake off the feeling that what she is about to do is irredeemably, indefensibly seedy. ‘I feel like Rolf Harris all of a sudden,’ she says. Leo’s family back in Ireland don’t know what he does for a living — he tells them he works on a North Sea oil rig — and over the course of three meetings, slowly but very effectively, and thanks to a brilliantly nuanced performance by McCormack, his own vulnerabilities begin to show.

Nancy, by contrast, is growing in self-esteem. She also begins to feel an intimacy beyond their physical connection — but is she starting to misinterpret their relationship?

Leo tells her that his oldest customer was 82, which makes her feel a little better, but she cannot shake off the feeling that what she is about to do is irredeemably, indefensibly seedy

Brand’s excellent script keeps all this real, faltering only once or twice when Nancy’s guilelessness feels a bit forced, but otherwise sustaining our interest in knowing how it might end.

Wisely, the questionable morality of paying for sex is not overlooked (Nancy used to get her secondary-school pupils to write essays on the subject), although anyone who feels strongly that it is intrinsically wrong in any circumstances should probably give this film a swerve.

But really it is a rite-of-passage story made with humour and sensitivity, and hats off to Thompson, not to mention towelling robes, for fleetingly exposing her sexagenarian body not just to a single camera but also to widespread comment. There is bound to be plenty.

Yet nudity is not the point of this film. Nor, even, is sex. It is about emotional growth, and how we’re never too old for it.

  • A shorter version of this review ran last Friday.

There’s no buzz in this limp Lightyear

Lightyear (PG, 100 mins)

Rating:

Pixar’s Toy Story spin-off Lightyear is a huge disappointment, not because it isn’t brilliantly animated — it is — but because it contains only a fraction of the inventiveness and joy of the films that spawned it.

It is billed as space ranger Buzz Lightyear’s origin story, the conceit being that it’s the very movie that made Andy, the kid in the original Toy Story (1995), fall in love with his model Buzz.

 Pixar’s Toy Story spin-off Lightyear is a huge disappointment, not because it isn’t brilliantly animated — it is — but because it contains only a fraction of the inventiveness and joy of the films that spawned it

But without the context of the toybox and Buzz’s chums Woody and co, this becomes a workaday space adventure about Buzz and his crew trying to escape a hostile planet.

There is an LBGTQ storyline that has earned Lightyear a ban in certain Muslim countries, but otherwise it’s hard to think of anything that makes this film anywhere near as distinctive as its illustrious forebears. It’s not bad, but as I explained in a longer review in Tuesday’s paper, expectations that ran to infinity and beyond, if not even farther, are quickly dampened.

Cha Cha Real Smooth (15, 107 mins)

Rating:

Cha Cha Real Smooth by welcome contrast, is a delight. Its writer, director and leading man is Cooper Raiff, a rising star of independent cinema, whose 2020 debut, Freshman Year, I also loved.

This movie has a similar rite-of-passage vibe. Raiff plays Andrew, who, though charming, kind, witty and charismatic, is stuck in a dead-end job in a New Jersey fast-food joint and is a source of great concern to his manic-depressive mother (Leslie Mann).

Cha Cha Real Smooth is a delight. This movie has a similar rite-of-passage vibe

But after he gets the dancing going at a bat mitzvah do, the smitten Jewish mums encourage him to become a professional ‘party-starter’. Meanwhile, Andrew befriends the lovely Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), and the film explores his evolving relationship with them, and with his own family, against the backdrop of his party-starting misadventures.

It’s funny, sweet and romantic, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Spiderhead (no cert, 106 mins) 

Rating:

I can’t honestly say the same about Spiderhead, a psychological thriller set in the near future about prison inmates being given mind-altering drugs. 

Spiderhead, a psychological thriller set in the near future about prison inmates being given mind-altering drugs

The director is Joseph Kosinski, who just brought us the worldwide hit Top Gun: Maverick, and it stars Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller. So there’s plenty of talent involved, but the dystopian plot rather runs out of puff. 

  • Lightyear is in cinemas. Cha Cha Real Smooth is on Apple TV+ and Spiderhead is on Netflix.

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