Starring: Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack
Directed By: Sophie Hyde
Where I Watched it: hulu
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Written by: Steven Pelletier
Narrated By: Roy Samuelson
Provided By: Zoo Digital
The Plot: A middle aged widow (Thompson) feeling unfulfilled in her sexual life thus far enlists the services of a male escort, Leo Grande (McCormack) to help her feel less disconnected, and check some things off her bucket list. But as the two converse, Leo shows her a world she’s unfamiliar with, and gives her an experience where she feels like the only woman in the world. Over the course of their time together, she slowly realizes that Leo has changed her perception of things that go on behind closed doors, and opened her up to a world of possibilities. But who exactly is Leo Grande?
What Works: Everything. I enjoyed every aspect of this film, from its simplicity in choosing to keep the majority of the film tucked away in a hotel room, to the fact that while this film may seem like it is headed for a Fifty Shades of Tawdry, it never goes full on Christian Grey. This is much more about a woman who spent her whole life married to the first man who ever paid attention to her, and now that her career is behind her, and her kids are grown, she’s wondering what’s next?
And for so many women of a certain age, Emma Thompson’s character will be super relatable. Her feelings on the initial decision to hire Leo are just what you’d expect from an uptight schoolteacher. She already has some idea in her head of what Pretty Woman scenario she’s just gotten herself into, and the shame is very real.
But Leo is very good at what he does, and feels far less like a prostitute than some sort of guardian angel sent to revive this woman from her mid-life crisis and set her on a path that will not be just the end of her days, but rather the beginning of another chapter. Thompson’s performance never feels like one, her dialogue flows like we are in the room, a fly on the wall, about to watch this unfold. Like you logged in expecting some porn to happen, but instead they just talk a lot. And what they talk about are likely things you might have felt or thought about yourself, and if not you, I guarantee someone in your proximity has thought these very same things.
It’s a brilliant turn from Thompson who is almost certain to be lost when people start talking about the Oscars this year. And for what it’s worth, McCormack dances a fine line as well, showing us this confidence that Leo carries with him, but also a certain amount of uncertainty as all of his clients are likely having very different needs and problems. So, he’s constantly trying to read her, and get her perspective so he knows how best to put her at ease. It’s not until she pushes for more personal information that we see any deviation in this mindset from him.
Also, as her character does not use her real name, I absolutely loved that reveal. Pure brilliance. Just a fantastic surprise, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
The Blind Perspective: I thought this would be a fun film to have a longer conversation about narration in terms of intimacy. Choices made, certain words, how far do you go? Stuff like that. The film itself doesn’t dwell much on straight up sex, but it does talk about it quite a lot, and there are several moments of qualified intimacy that wouldn’t be called outright sex.
Listening to the word choices in a film that seems very much about sex, but shows very little of it, made me realize that there likely are specific needs for these scenes. And since everyone is different, and we all have different limits, I’m sure no narrator wants to go too far. I felt like in general that this narration worked for a film that really has very little sexual intercourse.
It also got me thinking, who do you hire to voice? Male or female? Who is more right for this type of film? I would say that even though I’m male, I can recognize that the target and likely dominant audience for this is going to be a female audience. Are they more comfortable with a male reading intimate narration, or a female? What is the right call here? It’s not that I thought Roy Samuelson did anything less than perfection, but as i continue on this audio description journey, I keep asking myself new questions. Questions I don’t have the most remote idea what the answer could be.
Final Thoughts: If this was in theatres, I would say run don’t walk. Since it’s not, it’s now one of the best reasons to have a Hulu subscription right now. And even though it’s June, I’ll have my eye on Emma Thompson come Oscars season.
Final Grade: A