There is no shortage of sexual awakening stories centred on young ladies’ experience of the big O for the first time. Unfortunately, far too many women go through life without climaxing at all — and this is where comedian and screenwriter Katy Brand has stepped in to fill that orgasm gap. With Sophie Hyde on directing duties, this is an endearing, bubbly and heartening two-hander about female pleasure from a mature woman’s perspective. Together with Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, Brand and Hyde have captured that particularly dry style of humour and matter-of-factness so typical of the British romcom, with a sex-positive flair.
Thompson gives us everything. An award-winning screenwriter herself, it’s abundantly clear the actor has invested both personally and creatively in her repressed ex-schoolteacher. Nancy is a flood of contradictions: vulnerable and assertive, liberally minded but sexually conservative, straight-talking yet easily embarrassed by phrases like “anal sex”. She might be the older woman, but early on Thompson plays her almost like a 16-year-old about to pop her cherry, wide-eyed insecurity and nervous energy vibrating off her body. Like Aubrey Plaza’s feminist teen lead in The To Do List, she has a catalogue of carnal pleasures to experience for the first time, and Leo is the man to do just that.
Brand's script takes great care to dissect the ambiguities around sex and sex work without shame.
A calming foil to his tightly wound client, McCormack serves as a charismatic receptacle to Thompson’s anxious stream-of-consciousness, as well as a mirror to her more generational, mother-knows-best prejudices. Even as you empathise with the chaotic way Nancy unpacks her fears and sexual desires, the patient mask Leo wears rarely slips; it’s only her questions about his life, aspirations and reasons for being in his profession that cause his poise to falter. The underlying tension doesn’t quite rip but ripples as McCormark’s placid demeanour shifts, forcing a deeper interrogation for them both.
A Norwich hotel room sets the stage for this tête-à-tête; its beige decor of muted colours doesn’t pull focus and dulls any erotic charge. It’s not without its sensuality — at moments, the camera luxuriates in both their bodies — but naturalistic lighting grounds the encounter in the awkward, transactional reality. Navigating the power dynamic between client and sex worker, older white woman and young biracial man, Brand might have probed a bit deeper instead of tying up things so neatly. But in avoiding racial clichés and exploitative moments, her script takes great care to dissect the ambiguities around sex and sex work without shame, a lot of compassion and welcome comic relief. With bold direction, this is a healthy, relatable romp every man and woman should make time for.