To Leslie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s an appealing lo-fi aesthetic to this immersive character-driven drama. Screenwriter Ryan Binaco (3022) was allegedly motivated to pen a tribute to his mother’s life. He reportedly drew inspiration from the 1970 movie Wanda by Barbara Loden as well. However, this portrait of a troubled American mother experiencing questionable mental health also suggests other films of that decade: A Woman Under the Influence and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Accomplished TV director Michael Morris (Bloodline, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why) directs.

Leslie Rowland is a single mother from West Texas. Right at the beginning, we see TV news footage of her winning $190,000 in a local lottery. Leslie’s numbers were her son’s birth date. She happens to be an alcoholic and squanders the winnings on liquor and drugs. Six years later, Leslie is penniless and living a nomadic lifestyle without a permanent home. After being kicked out of a derelict motel, she returns to her hometown, ostensibly intending to rebuild her life. Leslie reunites with her estranged 20-year-old son James (Owen Teague). He’s currently in construction. The tall, slender Teague recalls a working-class John Travolta circa the Saturday Night Fever era. James agrees to take her in temporarily, provided she doesn’t drink. Unfortunately, she has difficulty making good on that promise.

Redemptive dramas about alcoholism can feel a bit manipulative. Yet To Leslie supersedes its histrionic subject with authenticity. Leslie soon alienates her son and is forced to move back in with bitter ex-friends (Allison Janney and Stephen Root). That soon falls apart. A chance meeting with Sweeney (Marc Maron), the manager of a rundown motel, might prove to be a blessing. Sweeney’s co-worker is an idiosyncratic man named Royal (Andre Royo), who owns the property. These thoroughly realized characters confirm that a complicated plot is unnecessary when you sincerely detail human emotion. This is a compelling study of addiction in blue-collar Middle America. The emotional saga captivates at every turn.

When we talk about the depth of an actor’s work, it’s hard not to consider the disparity between an actor’s background and the personality of their role. Andrea Riseborough is a British actress born in Wallsend, near Newcastle. She attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2005. Riseborogh completely embodies this hard-drinking West Texas woman. You’d swear the producers simply picked up a local barfly from “The Lone Star State” and cast them in a movie. Riseborough is that convincing. Playing a drunk can feel like a “rite of passage” for an actor. However, her depiction here is elevated beyond common portrayals.

Andrea Riseborough has always been a chameleon. It’s easy to forget she’s been acting for two decades. She made her feature debut in 2006 with a small part in Venus starring Peter O’Toole. She has had prominent roles in many films, including Oblivion, Birdman, Nocturnal Animals, Battle of the Sexes, The Death of Stalin, Mandy, Possessor, Amsterdam, and Matilda The Musical. She often looks and acts like an utterly different individual. She gives a transformative performance here. A grassroots campaign amongst Riseborough’s fellow actors heralded her work in this picture few had seen before January 24. When the Oscar nominations were announced that morning, she earned a nod for Best Actress. Her nomination may have been a surprise, but her achievement is most assuredly deserving of acclaim.

To Leslie is available to rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.


7 Responses to “To Leslie”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Rented because of her nom have yet to see. Was intrigued by supporting cast (especially Marc maron) to say nothing of riseboroughs work and controversy over her nom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to have seen this. Oscar nom well deserved. Movie was well acted all around. Allison Janney is so good as her character. Surprised she didn’t get a consideration for supporting actress. I had to see snippets of Andreas previous movies to even know who she was. Now I know. 4 ⭐️


    • The Oscars worked precisely as they should. Draw attention to great movies we might otherwise never have heard of. It’s nice when big spending by a Hollywood studio doesn’t “buy” a nomination.


  3. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Still haven’t watched my rental buy did you see this…?!?


  4. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:
    I still haven’t watched my rental but did you see this…?!?


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