Sixty something widow Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) is looking for a new experience. She hires sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for an encounter. Nancy’s only ever been with one man, her now deceased husband, who preferred very matter-of-fact sex. Nancy really wants to be adventurous in the sack. And perhaps maybe an orgasm? She’s never had one before. But that might be too much to ask. Leo Grande is more than willing to help Nancy. The problem is that Nancy won’t stop talking, won’t stop worrying and won’t stop asking the fairly secretive Leo questions about his past. As Nancy books several encounters with Leo, she must come to terms with her own views of sexuality before she can find what she’s looking for.
Written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a dynamic exploration of age, sexuality and identity. The story plays out in four chapters and we see both growth and decline with Emma Thompson’s character. She’s absolutely terrific in this, which isn’t a surprise by any means. Thompson boldly ventures to demonstrate that, yes, an older woman can not only crave sex but they can be sexy too. Daryl McCormack holds his own opposite his costar. He portrays that natural confidence that makes Leo Grande such an engaging protagonist. While the first chapter can feel like a bit frustrating, viewers will ultimately be rewarded with the reach the film’s satisfying climax.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Update: Good Luck To You, Leo Grande premieres June 17th on Hulu.
Alice (Natalia Dyer)’s sexual curiosity is getting her unwanted attention at her Catholic high school. After an illicit AOL chat and a rumor about her performing a sexual act on another student, high school is now even more awkward for the already awkward Alice. When an opportunity arises to go to a supposedly life-changing spiritual treat, Alice jumps at the chance. However, at the retreat she quickly learns that the perception of purity is toxic especially when everyone has their own secrets, including her.
Written and directed by Karen Maine, Yes, God, Yes is a gentle coming-of-age story that examines problems with purity culture. Set during the time when AOL chats and Yahoo! searches online were the norm, Alice navigates the online world to discover her own sexuality. The film tackles all sorts of topics, including gossip, misogyny, homosexuality, and shaming, with a light touch. As someone who had a strict religious upbringing and grew up during this technological era, I found Alice’s story very relatable. The film could have delved into some other aspects of purity culture and religion or given us more background on the characters. However, doing so would have made the story more heavy-handed. Instead, Maine gives us a movie that is equal parts enjoyable and revelatory.
It’s never too late to follow your dreams. This message comes across loud and clear in the new documentary Morgana. Directors Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess follow Morgana Muses, an Australian kink performer and free spirit, over five years as she navigates through a new phase in her life. Morgana had always craved intimacy, touch, warmth and connection. She suppressed her sexual desires when it was imposed upon her to play the part of model daughter and wife. Morgana did everything she was supposed to do. She got married, had children and played the part. But then came a mid-life crisis. Morgana broke free from her unhappy marriage and decided it was time to live life on her terms. The 50-something has been on a journey ever since, finding the connection she so desperately craved and using her new found sexual freedom to express her creativity. The film follows Morgana as she poses for styled photoshoots, directs pornographic movies and connects with others in the kink community and beyond.
Morgana is a sex-positive documentary that will inspire viewers to break out of their emotional prisons and explore new possibilities. It also coaxes the viewers to contemplate sexual expression as something not only relegated to the young and thin. Morgana wears her voluptuous frame and her age beautifully, despite her nagging self-loathing, and we would do well to learn to appreciate something outside of societal beauty standards.
Morgana is currently screening as part of the San Francisco Indie Fest 2021 through February 21st.
The idea of making money from pleasure is an intoxicating one. Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel), has traveled from her home in Sweden to Los Angeles, to do just that. She aspires to break into the lucrative porn industry. Newcomers are embraced quickly with their first porn shoot which is packaged and sold as an enticing first experience video. But once that cherry has been popped, it’s more difficult to climb the ranks. Bella has the looks, the body but soon discovers that’s not enough. She’s timid, awkward and reluctant to do more advanced techniques. But she’s also got drive. She wants he top talent agent, the lucrative shoots, the best hair and makeup and the chance to climb to the top. Along the way she discovers how abusive her work really is and in order to make it she needs to not only take that abuse but to give it as well.
Directed by Ninja Thyberg, Pleasure is an expansion of her short film by the same name, Pleasure (2013), which premiered at Cannes and also screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Every industry is toxic in one way or another but the porn industry has a cycle of abuse that can be particularly damaging. Thyberg adeptly explores this in her film and casts a critical eye on how the industry treats young women. Kappel offers the viewer a sense of unease that fits with her character.
Pleasure is rooted in realism. There is plenty of nudity and borderline pornographic scenes. Many of the actors are actually porn stars and real porn genres and brand names are used throughout.
I recommend Rashida Jones’ Hot Girls Wanted, a breakout documentary that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and is available to watch on Netflix. Pleasure is almost like a fictionalized version of Jones’ film.
Pleasure premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of their World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
Clitoris. It’s a word that comes with a lot of unnecessary baggage. It’s one one of the greatest anatomical features women can possess because its only job is to give us pleasure. The tip of the clitoris has over 8,000 nerves. While 96% of men can orgasm through intercourse only 25% of women can. The clitoris is our access to orgasms. Yet the clitoris, the organ itself and the word, has largely been feared, ignored and repressed. It wasn’t until 1998 that the first extraction of a full female clitoris, by Dr. Helen O’Connell, happened. Before that scientists didn’t fully understand its shape, size and function. Why has the clitoris been ignored? The clue can be found in how we as a society treat women’s sexuality. Men’s sexuality is encouraged, even celebrated, and women’s sexuality is seen as a threat. Women are seen as an object of desire while their own desire is feared. It’s time for the clitoris to come to the forefront. It’s time to strip it of the needless shame and secrecy. It’s time to give women control over their own sexuality and their own bodies. Let’s celebrate the CLITORIS!
“It is a powerful thing to control someone’s body. That is why no one wants to talk about the clitoris. It is a reminder of women’s independence and is at the core of their liberation.”
The Dilemma of Desire is an unabashed celebration of women’s sexuality. It calls for cliteracy, an open dialogue and appreciation for the clitoris. Directed by Maria Finitzo, The Dilemma of Desire includes interviews with a variety of women and how they’ve explored their expressions of sexuality. The most interesting subject of the documentary is Sophia Wallace, the artist who started a cliteracy project. She created a design in the shape of the clitoris that she uses in her art as well as the Laws of Cliteracy, many of which are shared in the film.
I had a strict religious upbringing and much of what I learned about women’s sexuality I learned on my own. One of the greatest resources I encountered during my sexual awakening was the-clitoris dot com (don’t try to look it up, it no longer exists and the URL will take you to a malware infected site). This site offered extensive information about the clitoris, other parts of a woman’s anatomy, stories shared by women about their own experiences and so much more. I spent hours on the site, learning the things that my parents and my school couldn’t or wouldn’t teach me. With the help of the site I found my clitoris and had my first orgasm at the age of 19. The-Clitoris no longer exists but The Dilemma of Desire does. Don’t let the strong feminist and political leaning scare you off. The Dilemma of Desire will empower women to embrace their sexuality and that is a beautiful thing.
The Dilemma of Desire was scheduled to have its premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. You can find more information about this film on the official website.