GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE
Cast: Emma Thompson, Daryl McCormack
Director: Sophie Hyde
Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) has lived a life of regimented routine for nearly her entire 50-plus years and she’s been a widow for two of them, after 31 years of marriage to her husband. A former religious studies teacher, she has two grown-up children now off living their own lives and doesn't seem to have a great deal of connection outside her restricted life. Now she has declared herself ready – in her mind at least – to make a radical change to her mundane existence. Enter Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack). Leo Grande is a sex worker, whom Nancy hires to meet her in a hotel room, as she claims she's ready to find pleasure again. However, once Leo arrives at the door, she immediately re-thinks her previously daring arrangement and it ends up with Leo having to listen to Nancy panic about the current state of her life. Although she is paying him to be there, Leo seems genuinely empathetic to Nancy and happy just to listen to her talking – and indeed offers a few nudges of encouragement towards the pleasure part of their meetings.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a delightful film about connection that allows Thompson to fully inhabit a three-dimensional person who doesn't feel she should want the desires she has, but as Leo tries to remind her, there's nothing wrong with desiring companionship. Director Sophie Hyde reportedly shot the film in less than 20 days and, apart from a scene towards the end, the entire piece takes place in Nancy's hotel room over the course of different sessions. It’s a creative and independent form of storytelling, made during the 2020-2022 pandemic restrictions. Thompson and McCormack offer beautifully crafted performances, as the characters develop a lovely, finely-tuned chemistry of two people who are in completely different places in their lives, but have more common ground than you might expect. The film elegantly navigates their relationship through a sex farce, comedic banter, and moments of genuinely touching truth with great ease, and the performers meet Katy Brand's screenplay every step of the way. In addition, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande delicately tackles quite a number of issues in just over the 90 minutes running time, including an effort to de-stigmatise Leo's job as a sex worker. Nancy hires Leo for a service, but the film is actually more about two people who really need to find another person to be honest with, and receive no judgment in return. It's a testament to Hyde that she was able to capture that story without taking any of the predictable or obvious routes that a lesser film may have felt unable to avoid.
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea
Writer/Producer/Director: Jordan Peele
In Jordan Peele’s latest film, his third - Nope - we meet OJ and Emerald Haywood, a brother and sister played respectively by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, as they take on the family business – Haywood’s Hollywood Horses – after their father’s sudden death in a disturbingly freak accident. What follows is a formally tight and visually expansive sci-fi epic that interrogates US cinema’s production problems while synthesising Peele’s own love for genre filmmaking. Anchored by two superb lead performances from a mean, moody, strong and silent Kaluuya and vivaciously hilarious Palmer, Peele flexes his aptitude for creating tension through both horrific and comedic effect – with sequences of raining blood and a hugely annoying praying mantis. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (who also works with Christopher Nolan) is instrumental in building this tension and creating the slick visuals that stun and unsettle simultaneously - as is sound mixer José Antonio García whose work here seamlessly moves between wholly suffocating and a breath of fresh air. Nope is certainly Peele’s most accomplished work to date, walking the tightrope between high production values and innovative storytelling. But what’s most refreshing is the trust Peele places in his audience to go with him through a recognisable world, that gradually becomes alien, without holding their hand.
Exposition is few and far between, but with Emerald Haywood providing the most essential piece. Early in the film, she introduces the family business to a production crew, asking “Did you know that the first set of photographs to create a motion picture was a two-second clip of a Black man on a horse?”, and without labouring the point, this prepares us to see a UFO sci-fi action horror film about those people whom Hollywood was built upon. Peele’s adult ideas are wrapped in robust, entertaining and highly re-watchable filmmaking. There’s enough respect for the audience and abundant skill in the cast and crew to do both. Peele is unafraid to let the tension linger and acutely understands the difference between comedic relief versus undercutting with comedic ‘rescue’, toying with the silliness of genre filmmaking and challenging the predictable storytelling we have become numb to at every stage. Jordan Peele is at the top of his game and he’s doing everything right - right now.