It is alternatively amusing and touching to observe the genuinely human interactions between the two very different lead characters of “Good Luck to You, Rio Grande”, which was released on Hulu in last week. Although most of the story is unfolded within one small place, the movie is constantly buoyed by the effortless chemistry between its two lead performers, and I appreciate how it deftly swings back and forth between comedy and drama from the beginning to the end.
Consisting of four chapters, the movie is about the relationship between a 52-year-old British widow played by Emma Thompson and a young handsome sex worker played by Daryl McCormack. As she confides to him during their first meeting, she, who presents herself as “Nancy Stokes”, has never experienced orgasm throughout her whole life in addition to having no fun or excitement with her deceased husband, and that is why she came to approach to this youthful sex worker, who works under the name of “Leo Grande”.
During her first meeting with Leo, Nancy often cannot help but become stiff and nervous for understandable reasons. Yes, she wants to explore sex and orgasm much more than she ever imagined before, but she was also afraid of only becoming silly and pathetic without success or satisfaction. As an experienced professional who has probably seen many women like Nancy, Leo tactfully and generously handles the situation while being ready for, uh, the next step, but she is still not so sure about whether this is really what she wants.
Anyway, though she keeps hesitating, Nancy manages to open herself to Leo bit by bit. Even before her unsatisfying married life with her rather boring husband, she was sexually repressed just like many other women of her generation, and she is also struggling with those cumbersome moral questions on her current circumstance. While she has really needed sex, she has also wanted to taste some youth, so that is why she hired Leo, but paying him to have sex with her still bothers her a lot.
In contrast, Leo is quite casual and confident about how he has earned his living. While not crossing the line between him and Nancy, he listens to Nancy with some care and understanding, and then, for leading Nancy more into her undiscovered territory, he comes to opens himself a little to her in response. Regardless of whether he is really sincere or not, he surely does as much as paid, and that eventually helps Nancy take her first small but significant step toward sexual pleasure and liberation.
As Nancy and Leo tentatively push and pull each other, the screenplay by Katy Brand often shines with wit and insight as carefully developing its two main characters step by step. I was particularly amused by how deliberately Leo uses some sophisticated words to impress and comfort Nancy, and I was also tickled a lot by how Nancy struggles to be more practical and straightforward about her sexual goals to be attained.
Under director Sophie Hyde’s skillful direction, a number of key scenes associated with sex in the film are handled with enough sensitivity and honesty. While you may laugh as observing Nancy fumbling after her growing desire, her bumpy quest for sexual quest is balanced well between humor and drama, and we come to care more about whether she can handle her tricky situation with Leo well enough to satisfy herself.
Things become rather complicated between Nancy and Leo when she is eventually quite enraptured as well as empowered by the happiness she has never experienced. She becomes more interested in getting closer to Leo in addition to getting more fun and excitement from him, and that is where Leo becomes a lot more guarded than before.
While it comes to lose some of its narrative momentum during its last chapter where it expands its small background a bit, the movie is still steadily held together by Thompson and McCormack, who dexterously complement each other’s acting without any misstep. As bringing considerable human qualities to her character, Thompson, who recently had her 63rd birthday, gives another stellar performance to be added to her long and distinguished acting career, and she also shows here that she can be as daring as, say, Helen Mirren. I will not go into details on one particular moment involved with nudity, but I can tell you instead that Thompson absolutely rules as conveying to us how her character comes to feel a lot better about herself than before.
On the opposite, newcomer Daryl McCormack is equally impressive as ably holding the ground for his co-star with graceful ease and confidence. Considering Thompson’s much more prominent status, it must have been pretty daunting for this young emerging Irish actor to act along with her in front of the camera, but he keeps surprising us as flawlessly interacting with Thompson throughout the film, and his character accordingly comes to us someone more than a hunky object of desire.
On the whole, “Good Luck to You, Rio Grande” is a delightful two-hander thanks to its two lead performers’ commendable efforts, and its frank and sensitive approach to its main subjects will surely remind you that sex matters to anyone regardless of age and gender. After all, it is never late as long as you are alive, isn’t it?