Sunday 5 February 2023

To Leslie by Michael Morris

A single mother in Texas wins a sizeable amount at the lottery only to rapidly spend it all in a few years and find herself near destitute and turning to the bottle. She tries to reconcile with her estranged son and the friends and communities she left behind.

If that synopsis sounds melodramatic, it's because it is, purposely so. At times the narrative beats might sound like they belong to some old school made-for-TV movies but this is nothing of the sorts, rather To Leslie is a downbeat independent film that lays bare the misery Leslie finds herself in but the director is not interested in making this an issue film about an unfair, uncaring American society, it focuses instead on individuals and small communities. Similarly, this is not a film about alcoholism, nor is it used as a cheap narrative trope. 

While we do feel some sympathy for Leslie, she is written as a real person, flaws and all, not some saintly character on her way to redemption. Often her worst enemy, her background and past history purposely obscured to let the audience make up their own mind about her exact share of responsibility in her downfall.

As Leslie, Andrea Riseborough is quite simply extraordinary. The chameleon British actress is far from being well known by mainstream audiences even by those who might have seen her in many of her films without realising it was the same actress each time. There is a lot of big acting from her at the start of the film but she knows exactly what she is doing and some of the early scenes between Leslie are her son are so raw and devastating. Yet she also shines in some quieter contemplative shots that linger just that little more than is necessary, in which remorse and sadness pervades without her ever chasing sympathy. 

The film has come to an unexpected spotlight long after its South by Southwest then Raindance presentation due to the belated, grassroots and unexpectedly successful campaign by many famous actresses to get Andrea Riseborough nominated for an Oscar, which lead to an unfair controversy about the legality of it all within the Oscars rules but it is about time the actress receives more exposure and acclaim. 

Review by Laurent De Alberti

Star rating: 

To Leslie is out in selected cinemas in the UK.

To Leslie. USA 2022. Directed by Michael Morris. Starring Andrea Riseborough, Marc Maron, Owen Teague...

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