Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Sundance Review: Emma Thompson Naked and Unafraid in Stunning “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”


Sundance: Oscar winner Emma Thompson (“Howard’s End”) has always been an uncommonly fine actress, whether she was the painfully restrained but deeply caring housemistress in “Remains of the Day” or the painfully restrained but deeply caring Elinor Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility” (she also got an Oscar for writing the screenplay). You may know her as Nanny McPhee. or as the Baroness in “Cruella.”

Now she’s gone and done something quite extraordinary. At the age of 61, Thompson appears naked in more ways than one in Sophie Hyde’s “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.” The movie is “written and created by” Katy Brand, who appeared in the “Nanny McPhee” sequel in 2010 and must be a friend of Thompson. (This movie has strange credits, by the way).

You’d almost think that “Leo Grande” is an adapted play. But it’s not. It’s an original, very original in fact, in its whole execution. I’m not sure how it will get away with an R rating, but who cares? This much is certain: Thompson will be heaped on with awards in 2023. So get ready.

Thompson plays “Nancy” (not her real name), a widow and retired school teacher who hires “Leo” (not his real name) for sexual instruction. They meet in a hotel. Leo is played Daryl McCormack, who looks a little goofy in real life but a hot hombre in the film. He’s going to help Nancy have her first orgasm ever and enjoy her body for the first time in her life.

The conversation between Nancy and Leo is frank and modern. And as Nancy peels off clothes, she also peels herself off like an onion. In doing so, she also seeks to find Leo’s layers, so when they’re not naked and having sex (a glut of which comes at the end of the film) they are finding out important stuff about each other.

Thompson is brave– not because she’s fully unclothed without help from the makeup or props department. Her courage is in allowing herself, an Oscar and Emmy winner with lots of other accolades, explore an intimate world we don’t see in films nowadays. She was one of Mike Nichols’ favorite actresses, and you can see why. She’s willing to plumb depths of her soul.

Other reviews I’ve glanced at talk about this movie being “sex positive” which is lingo for 2022. Brand reaches some nice conclusions and resolutions, the kind you won’t see on Lifetime or Hallmark. “Leo Grande” may shake up the landscape when it finally gets released. In the old days Miramax would have picked this up and gotten Oscar nods for everyone involved. LionsGate has it in the UK. I’m curious to see what happens in the U.S.

PS This is a total aside, but Sundance is brimming with terrific performances by actresses directed by women director. Case in point: Elizabeth Banks in “Call Jane.” More on that in my next piece.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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