To Leslie Review | Movie – Empire – Empire

Michael Morris’ directorial debut seemed all set to head down the same path of many under-the-radar indies. After a festival run and a small cinema release stateside, To Leslie was destined to reside in the murky depths of streaming service algorithms. But instead, this elegiac working-class drama will more likely be remembered for the surprise grassroots Oscar campaign for Andrea Riseborough, who has now become something of a dark horse Best Actress contender. Seemingly everyone in the A-lister phonebook is rooting for her: Cate Blanchett gave her a shoutout, Edward Norton wrote a whole Twitter thread about her “physically harrowing” performance, and to top it all off, Kate Winslet called Riseborough’s turn “the greatest female performance on screen I have ever seen in my life.” High praise indeed.
Whether or not you agree with Winslet’s assessment, Riseborough – no stranger to rich, chameleonic work in her career – does indeed deliver an outstanding and complex performance as a prickly alcoholic on the mend. Testing the patience of her family while couch-surfing and smuggling beer cans, her Leslie oscillates between rage and devastation with the unpredictability of someone who can’t control themselves but so desperately wants to.
As moving as it is, To Leslie feels somewhat derivative of an exhaustible list of tear-stricken addiction dramas that turn agony into a horrifying spectacle. Morris and screenwriter Ryan Binaco wring out all of Leslie’s pain for easy empathy as she endures humiliation from her local haunt’s patrons, as well as a vomitous cold turkey recovery. “How’d you like it if people stood around watching you suffer?” Leslie’s son asks as he balks at her offer to take him to the zoo. “They do,” she replies, with no hint of self-awareness.
Quietly reflecting on the reparable wounds addiction inflicts, To Leslie doesn’t aim to impart any larger lessons on such issues. This is, ultimately, an intimate character study purpose-built as a star vehicle for a superlative actress long overdue for some proper recognition. And any modest indie that (even potentially) makes it into the big leagues is worth celebrating.
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