To Leslie (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Can she really start over?

“To Leslie” is about the hard and difficult struggles of one messy human being to observe. She once felt like being on the top of the world, but she has hit one bottom after another due to her serious personal problems since then, and the movie dryly but sensitively depicts her desperate reach for any possibility of a new beginning with understanding and empathy.

When she won a local lottery and then received no less than $ 190,000, Leslie “Lee” Rowlands (Andrea Riseborough) was certainly excited as believing that everything would go well for her and her young son, but then things soon went downhill during next several years. She thoughtlessly squandered most of her money to alcohol and drug, and now she is living a barren and destitute life of your average addict at present.

Shortly after being kicked out of a residential motel where she has resided for a while, Leslie goes to a city where her son currently lives. Although he still feels hurt about being abandoned by his mother at that time, James (Owen Teague) lets his mother stay at his place because he still cares about his mother. Leslie certainly appreciates that, though that does not stop her from tumbling back to her usual alcoholic mode. When he belatedly comes to learn that his mother breaks her promise again, James naturally becomes quite angry, and he eventually sends her back to their hometown in West Texas, where she will stay at the house of his paternal grandparents Dutch (Stephen Root) and Nancy (Allison Janney).

Because there are many people who still remember well how she fell into bankruptcy and addiction, Leslie does not like to go back to her hometown, but she does not have any other option, and she is not welcomed much by Dutch and Nancy either. Although they do not speak that much about what occurred between them and Leslie, we can clearly sense the old anger and resentment between them and Leslie, and that makes Leslie quite uncomfortable at times.

Naturally, she inevitably finds herself holding a bottle at a nearby bar, and that consequently leads to her being kicked out of Nancy and Dutch’s house. Quite devastated again, Leslie desperately looks for any place she may sleep a bit, and that is how she ends up sleeping outside a nearby motel run by Sweeney (Marc Maron) and Royal (Andre Royo). Although he tells her to leave when he finds her in the next morning, Sweeny gives a little offer to her when she comes to the motel later. In exchange of a rather small wage and boarding, she will work as a cleaner for him and Royal, and she cannot refuse his offer because, well, she needs a place to stay right now.

Needless to say, Leslie often frustrates both Sweeney and Royal due to her current addiction problem. While frequently late for her work, she keeps drinking as before, and there is a painful moment when she goes inside her former residence without permission at one night. She cannot help but miss that good time when everything seemed all right to her, and we come to feel a bit sorry for her while also recognizing how pathetic she really is.

Nevertheless, Sweeney does not give her up easily as a guy who has some personal experience with addition. Even though Leslie lets him down more than once, he still responds to her with kindness and patience, and Leslie soon comes to realize that she really has to pull up herself this time. First, she becomes a little more diligent than before during her worktime, and she also tries to get sober, though that turns out to be quite difficult to say the least.

Of course, there subsequently comes a point where its heroine becomes drawn to her old bad habit again, but the screenplay by Ryan Bianco keeps focusing on character development even at that point. As appreciating more of Sweeney’s humane generosity, Leslie comes to open herself more to him, but she is also reminded of how she has let down many people in her problematic life including her son – especially when she comes across Nancy later in the story. Yes, she really should stop drinking, but it is evident that she also must take care of many other problems including herself first.

I think the movie steps back a bit around the ending for a bit of optimism, but Andrea Riseborough, who deservedly received a surprise Best Actress Oscar nomination in last week, is utterly uncompromising in her raw performance. While not overlooking her character’s many human flaws at all, Riseborough did a fabulous job of conveying to us her character’s emotional struggles along the story, and she is especially fantastic during a certain brief moment when Leslie makes a small but important decision on herself. Although she does not say anything, Riseborough lets us sense some change in her character’s conflicted mind, and that is the main reason why the following ending is effective enough to touch us.

Around Riseborough, several few main cast members ably support her as having each own moment to shine. While imbuing his character with a gentle sense of human compassion, Marc Maron has a nice low-key chemistry with Riseborough during their several key scenes in the film, and Allison Janney is dependable as usual in her acerbic supporting role. In case of Stephen Root, Owen Teague, and Andre Royo, they are also solid in their respective parts, and Royo demonstrates again that he is one of most reliable character actors at present.

In conclusion, “To Leslie”, which is incidentally the first feature film of director Michael Morris, is a quiet but powerful character drama driven by one of the best performances in Riseborough’s advancing acting career. Since she drew my attention for the first film via her strong lead turn in “Shadow Dancer” (2012), she has seldom disappointed us during last 10 years as a talented actress to watch, and I sincerely hope her recent Oscar nomination will boost her career further during next several years.

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1 Response to To Leslie (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Can she really start over?

  1. Pingback: My Prediction on the 95th Academy Awards | Seongyong's Private Place

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