Several people contacted me wondering what I thought of the way agency is depicted throughout the movie Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, so I knew it was a must see. I’m also a big fan of Emma Thompson (who isn’t?) so… it was a no brainer.
The short of it:
I loved it.
It is brave, it is poignant, it is real. I appreciate the way the film communicates the nuanced fears that arise when owning parts of one’s sexual self, and how it highlights the subtleties of pleasure. Two things, however, stood out to me the most. First, they didn’t use my favorite word, which also happens to be the word that best sums up my life’s work thus far… agency. I know the word itself is catching wind but the concept is something I have been honing for decades and was shown from many angles throughout the film – it almost made me weep. Second, the film normalizes the broad spectrum of sex acts, of sexual interest and desire, and of the relevancy of a woman at in her 60s as a sexual being. Hallelujah! It is about damn time.
The final scenes are beyond delightful, they’re sexy and sweet, they’re relatable to anyone at any age and they’re just absolutely lovely. God bless the screenwriter, Katy Brand – she got it right in so many ways. 10 out of 10.
I felt so seen and the effects are still lingering. The movie is a gold-bedazzled billboard for the work I do with so many people around the world. THIS is how people feel after holistic sexuality gets a hold of them, THIS is how I want everyone to feel whether they work with me privately or through a course, THIS is why I am so adamant that people take the time to know themselves sexually. It is beyond worth it.
Her enthusiasm in the “I feel invincible” scene made me want to stand up and give an ovation. THAT is agency. I get a lot of grief and judgment for the work I do and because my work is confidential, not a lot of people talk about it to others or go on social media and tell them how their life has changed due to our work. But I get to see it, day in and day out, and that is part of the beauty and honor of my work. I get to see the transition people make as they not only find out who they are as a sexual being, but who they are period.
Now let’s dig in.
*Spoiler alert as I am getting into the nitty gritty of this charming AND powerful movie. Please still watch it!*
Let’s talk about the obvious stuff:
- He’s a sex worker.
- She is much older than him.
- She is older than 45 and is actively pursuing her sexual interests.
- Yes, she hired a sex worker, AND he is much younger than her.
I am in support – hell yes! I have close personal and client relationships with several sex workers and can attest that this happens and a lot of the dialogue is realistic and authentic. I love that this character did this for herself and, yes, a lot of sex workers do the work they do for the reasons he said – again, watch the movie.
Now let’s move on to the deeper stuff.
Age & Sexuality
Nancy (Emma Thompson) is a retired widow who hires a good looking young sex worker called Leo (Daryl McCormack). It had been a few years since she had had sex and even then, her sex wasn’t inspiring, fulfilling or frankly, good. She had an interest, a desire, a yearning to try some things, to figure out if sex was really worth it anymore, and to see what, if any, pleasure awaited her. She was skeptical, curious, awkward, hopeful and scared… sound familiar?
I fell in love with her instantly.
She’s a bit prickly, she has some interesting things to say about her kids and life, and is both direct and subtle. You guessed it… they have sex. And then they meet again. They talk more. Have more sex. She crosses his boundaries later in the movie which backfires on her but leads to a big breakthrough. It ends so beautifully in my eyes and we all are given a brief glimpse into Nancy’s imperfect, beautiful, holistic sexual inner and outer work.
She’s human, normal, and relatable. I know many will watch and think her choices are anything but relatable and maybe even extreme, dangerous, and / or audacious amongst a million other things. And yet here is where the magic lies – agency, the part of being human that is both a mother fucker and true salvation. Acknowledging and standing strong in your belief that pleasure is your birthright, and then seeking and experiencing sexuality on your own terms is agency… and it’s so much more.
Nancy’s choices and the details of her journey may or may not align with yours but her human experience does. Sexuality is something we all have in common.
I work with people of all ages seeking support, information, healing, and a desire to open up to new ideas about sexuality. I love them all but I am particularly drawn to the increasing number of women who follow my work and work with me that are in their 50’s and beyond (maybe because I fit into this category at last). I feel determined to break down this societal idea that women’s aging is both a crime and a push for us to be invisible.
That’s such shit.
The women I talk to want to be seen as sexual beings. They want to feel connected to who they are as a sexual being. They want to reconnect, to define themselves on their own terms, to have partners who can keep up – we are NOT done! These women also grieve who they used to be. They feel hope and excitement for who they have grown into. They don’t feel the age the calendar has given them and society has defined for them. They are thrilled to either know who they are with less concern for others opinions or feel ready to define life on their own terms finally. “They” are also me. I feel all of this personally too.
… and they want to have sex. Good sex. Great sex. The best sex of their lives. They want to have sex in a different way and for different reasons and feel good about it. They want sex to feel good, to feel sexually connected to themselves and if partnered, to someone else.
I really love that this group is powerful, they are insightful as hell and are action oriented. This age group (again, whom I’m a part of) has seen so much in the world, in their lives and in our culture. And what speaks to my soul deeply is that this group gets inherently what I spend so much time teaching others — that knowing who you are as a sexual being and taking charge of this part of your life, changes your life or has the potential to. Inside your bedroom (if that’s where you have sex) of course but even more potently – outside of your bedroom, in your everyday life, minute to minute.
Agency is the foundation of my work. Sexual agency is the highlight of my work. I have been both researching and teaching for almost 20 years. I will touch briefly on it but hope you will be inspired to learn more about it and learn what it feels like when applied to your life. It is becoming a buzzword now but like many buzzwords, I believe it’s misunderstood in everyday conversations and I will continue to research and teach what I know so agency can truly shine! Check out a podcast I’ve done about agency, one of my courses (REVEALED or Agency REVEALED) or an article I’ve read if you want to dig into it.
In short, agency is a noun, verb, concept and skill. The skill has 5 parts to it, rooted in the complexity of making a decision and then living with it. I was thrilled when I watched these steps play out in a real way in the film.
And yes, Nancy is the headliner in this movie but I don’t want you to overlook Leo. He’s more interesting than what meets the eye and could easily get overlooked because of Emma’s brilliant delivery and Katy’s excellent writing of Nancy. Nancy is compelling, but Leo has a lot to offer as well.
I’d like to recount some of the places where agency comes through for Leo:
- At one point he says to her “you haven’t bought me Nancy, you bought my services, I am not being exploited.” I love the screenwriter, Katy, added this into the dialogue as it speaks to his agency. He made the decision of his work in this film. Yes, some sex workers are exploited and don’t have options, that’s true and there is little agency here indeed. When I supported a halfway house for recovery addicts, I worked with many who were exploited in the sex work industry and it was heartwrenching and remains a real problem. I also work now with those who are not exploited and who would resonate strongly with his statement. He chooses this and is proud of it, he works with purpose and intention and he is judged for it.
- He also speaks to his belief that if sex work was legalized it could be so ‘civilized’ and those who want to have sex can assuage their frustrations and get what they want without fear of judgement and with more safety. He implies that the ripple effects on society would be enormous, and I agree. I could write another whole article on this sentiment alone. I see this a lot in my practice and hear the frustration of how government, politics, race, and society intersect with our agency in regards to so many things. In some cases, society doesn’t stop at intersection… it obliterates our agency. Most recently, the US has been inundated with the ramifications of agency being taken away politically and systematically. This is not benign, pay attention.
- He speaks about the pleasure he receives from seeing his clients’ pleasure. The way he says it is sexy indeed, but the concept of agency underneath it is powerful. This is his why, this is his thing. This is why he chooses sex work and he has every right to it. The way he talks about pleasure and seeing another’s pleasure is delivered deliciously. I get it. I feel that way too. Pleasure in another is super hot to me. I also believe in the concept of pleasure deeply and have witnessed the transformative power of pleasure. The moment is well written and acted. Relish it. I rewound it and watched it again. I loved it so much.
- He asks for her consent. “Can I touch your shoulder?” Thankfully consent is much more relevant in sexual culture and vernacular today, as it should be. It needs to be. There are ad campaigns to help make consent sexy and some of it works, some of it is lost on people. This is because we need to be TAUGHT and SHOWN how it can be sexy, not just told it should be. This nuance is delivered in this scene. Well done – short but also quite good. Consent is critical to sexual agency as it’s a sexy way to gauge the desire between two people. “Do you want this?” “Yes I do.” – that’s very, very sexy. I teach and counsel a lot about sexual connection and the underpinning of fulfilling sexual connection is wanting. Knowing what you want. Knowing how to say what you want. Seeking this information from others. And being open to the wanting of others (when you want it). Hot. It is as simple and as complicated as “can I touch your shoulder?”
- And then… Nancy crosses his boundaries. Shit goes south when Nancy checks into Leo’s personal life after having been asked not to. “I have boundaries. I’ve asked you to respect them and you didn’t”… or something like that. He was pissed, and probably scared, offended and concerned too but definitely pissed. A switch was flipped when she pushed and broke that boundary. Boundaries are a part of agency though often the terms are used synonymously. Boundaries are like the first stop on the train ride that lands you into agency’s station. Boundaries can activate agency in some circumstances but they’re certainly not the same thing. You see Nancy’s lack of considering his boundaries, and therefore his agency, in her surprised and quick-footed response. He held firm. It is addressed later on but it was another moment that could be underestimated. The relevancy of this moment is likely applicable to your own agency journey too. The details will look different but the dynamic is all too familiar.
And here are some places where agency comes up for Nancy:
- “I want a young man, his body.” Nancy says. I smiled so wide when she said this. I was writing some quotes down quickly so I might not have them perfectly but you get the point of it. She was claiming her reason for hiring him – HER why. I loved that she stated her wanting so clearly and we should see more of this, our wanting and our whys. We should invite this more into our conversations and choices. The details will be different each time for all of us but the questions should be there, asking ourselves and each other what do you want? What is your why?
- She didn’t like the Mars bar. Didn’t like the smell on his breath. I love this. Speaking to your senses is a huge part of owning your sexuality, your sensuality. You don’t have to be an asshole about it but you do need to attend to things like this – they matter! You need to attend to all of your senses, your likes and dislikes. For me it is onions. It is a no go for kissing if someone has eaten onions. I wish it wasn’t such a hard no but it is. Beyond the obvious nos in your life, look for the yeses for you and look to all of your senses, not just one or two. What turns you on and off. Brilliant that they added this tiny moment into the encounter.
- Speaking of yes and no. Nancy makes a list in her second appointment. Again, I smiled, YES! I loved her to-do list. I teach people how to do this through the Four Quadrant exercise, dividing up a piece of paper into four parts: what you have done and want to try again; what you have done and don’t think you want to try again; what you haven’t done but think you want to try again; and what you haven’t done and think you don’t want to try. For the full exercise make sure to sign up for my newsletter – it is powerful and potent. My clients and people who take my courses LOVE it. And the verve behind her list recitation shows you why. It is exciting to ask for what you want. To give yourself permission to be curious. To SEE if you like something. To push yourself a little. I do this with my daughter with food. She has to take a no thank you bite with new food. All I ask is that she try it once and no thank you if it isn’t for her then. We should try this with (consensual) sex acts too, be more clear about what to try, what not to try for us. Try it and no thank you if it isn’t for you. A no isn’t the end of the world, it is just more information. A yes is the same way. You are just gathering more information about YOU.
- At the risk of turning my review into a novel, I will start wrapping up my review with the most impactful moment for me. As she is explaining herself and what her sexual empowerment [she said empowerment but that isn’t the right word….it is AGENCY] did for her. She said it made her feel invincible. Yes. It. Does. Yes it fucking does. Agency makes you feel this way. The smile on her face and the enthusiasm in her NEED to share her transformation says it all. I felt this way when agency entered my life. It changed everything for me. And then it saved my life. Twice. And when it all came together for me, I had that same passion, calling everyone I knew and NEEDing to share it with others. Like she did. I felt like Katy, the screenwriter, knew my story. Knew my work when she added that line. That is exactly how I want to help people feel. About their life. About their sexual life.
I could write much more but end with this litany of points:
- The scene of her receiving oral sex with her panties around her ankles and talking was BRILLIANT. Funny, relatable, sexy. NORMAL.
- Part of agency is being accountable and they hit this when Nancy owned her mistakes in her relating to her former student. It was crucial for her to share this full circle moment.
- Concupiscence. Lustful desire… St Augusto of Hippo. Look it up. It is interesting.
- The last series of sex positions, her orgasm and looking into the mirror two times brought me to tears knowing it would be so relatable and honest for so many of us. It was real, it was authentic and all of those sections are things I see played out in my clients’ lives time and time again yet they think they are alone in the experience. I found that series, the last 10 mins or so, utter perfection. I am grateful it was written and so well acted. I am grateful she was portrayed giving herself her first orgasm. My beloved mentor, Betty Dodson, was adamant about this. In her groundbreaking work, she never gave women orgasms and would step away when a woman was close, she wanted the woman to have ownership of this herself. To feel the power of self pleasure herself and not have that controlled by another. I’m glad that messaging was consistently shown.
And these several salient themes:
- It is never too late. For anything. Learning more about your anatomy. Making a Fuck It List. Embracing your body. Taking charge of your choices, your life, your agency. It is never too late to take a chance. Never too late to discover what you want and don’t want. Never too late to have an adventure, to find your spark, to seek pleasure.
- I thank Katy, Emma, and the production surrounding this film for celebrating Nancy, for making her relatable and real and normal and quirky and risk taking. And God bless her for standing fully naked- as Emma and as Nancy. THANK YOU. I really believe in having aging mentors – seeing the normal aging process on a real body is one of these reasons. I felt every inch of her insecurity, curiosity and imperfect acceptance. We don’t see the skin and certainly naked bodies of many people in Hollywood, the media, or life frankly, besides the 20-somethings. I would love to see if Robert DiNero had the balls (pun intended) to do the same scene. Is it sexist for me to think he wouldn’t? Or it wouldn’t get written? It shouldn’t be considered brave what Emma did in the scene but it really was. I stood up and applauded her.
- Emotion doesn’t always come first. Emma was ready-ish for change. She was curious and resolved(ish) to try this. She may not have been sure exactly what she wanted out of it and she also may not have understood the complexities of her emotions. BUT she knew she felt deprived and unhappy and she forced herself in a way into action in order to risk the opportunity of feeling something different. She had no idea where those actions would lead her to feel or transform but she was drawn to do so. Innately. Bravely. Audaciously. Did you see the change in her before she said she felt invincible? Her verve was different. Dressed differently. Spoke differently. I got the feeling she was going to start speaking more honestly, try more new things and right some wrongs in her past. Did you? It is almost as if she had a second Coming of Age moment (pun intended here too). A Sexual Coming of Age. She felt joy and pleasure in an often inaccessible place – her sexuality – and since she tackled it here, she was transformed and catapulted into seeking this in other areas of her life. I see this all the time with my clients and people in REVEALED.
- Nancy briefly recounts the lackluster sexual connection between her and her late husband. From whoomp whoomp to really sad, my reactions spanned a few emotions and feelings. And I hear this all the time from clients AND it is said with a resignation and reluctant acceptance – this pisses me off. It doesn’t have to be that way. Sexual connection CAN be vibrant and I believe should be for those who desire it.
After watching this movie, I want you to leave with this. YOU get to define your sexuality on YOUR terms. Fuck what society and your old messaging and politics and whatever… has told you. What do YOU want? Please embrace pleasure as a wonderful connector in our life and find the parts of you that smile like she did in the ending series.
Her smile was about pleasure. Acceptance. Transformation. Imperfection. Knowing.
And ultimately, agency.