To Leslie (2022) – Movie Review

To Leslie, 2022.

Directed by Michael Morris.
Starring Andrea Riseborough, Allison Janney, Marc Maron, Andre Royo, Owen Teague, Stephen Root, James Landry Hebert, Matt Lauria, and Catfish Jean.

SYNOPSIS:

A West Texas single mother wins the lottery and squanders it just as fast, leaving behind a world of heartbreak. Years later, with her charm running out and nowhere to go, she fights to rebuild her life and find redemption.

If there’s somehow any lingering doubt about Andrea Riseborough being one of the most talented and consistently impressive actors of her generation, her portrayal of a down-and-out alcoholic in veteran TV director Michael Morris’ (House of Cards, Better Call Saul) feature debut To Leslie should confidently evaporate it.

There’s an oft-parroted statistic that the overwhelming majority of lottery winners burn through their entire haul within five years, as is true of this film’s title character. Leslie (Riseborough) is a single mother living in Texas who scored $190,000 on the lotto, yet six years later is a world-weary alcoholic viewed with derision by her family and the wider community.

Yet a window of opportunity opens when Leslie crosses paths with Sweeney (Marc Maron), the lonesome manager of a motel who offers her a cleaning job and a place to stay. Each day becomes a desperate struggle to maintain sobriety, all in the hope that she can build a life and make good with her estranged son James (Owen Teague).

On a superficial level this is certainly a story we’ve seen before, of a substance abuser fighting to slay their demons and return to the person they were before the booze touched their lips. Yet as much as the earlier passages of Morris’ film prove typically bleak – Leslie is subject to both homelessness and sexual assault – he doesn’t overdo it with the fraught incident and so avoids crafting mere misery porn.

As depressing as Leslie’s situation might be, Maron’s more upbeat, affable Sweeney serves as a welcome tonal counter-weight. Leslie and Sweeney’s easy, unfussed chemistry wrings every possible drop of pathos and empathy out of the unconventional dynamic. It’s a touch disappointing – and predictable – that this later becomes a romance, yet to writer Ryan Binaco’s credit he doesn’t labour this part of the story much at all.

All in all To Leslie is a moving portrait of two wounded people – Sweeney himself divorced from an alcoholic wife – helping one another move forward. You know where it’s headed and there are few surprises in that regard, but it’s absolutely gratifying all the same.

This is an actors’ film if there ever was one, and Morris is blessed with an utter embarrassment of riches where his cast is concerned. First and foremost, Riseborough gives yet another excellent performance as a beleaguered woman battling to stay above water. Morris clearly appreciates what an expressive canvas her face is and makes the sure most of it, whether glass-eyed and wearing sloppy makeup while trying to drunkenly pick up a guy at the local bar, or spinning into a volatile rage as her family issues bubble to the surface.

Riseborough nails the bipolarity that comes with the disease of alcoholism; the blowsy, fleeting euphoria when sucking down a pint, and the underlying, angry self-awareness that she’s a destructive hurricane wherever she goes. Leslie is eminently sympathetic even if it’s totally understandable that her family wants nothing to do with her, and both director and star do a remarkable job of showing the “old Leslie” slowly emerge as she passes through the brutal rite of withdrawal.

Directly opposite Riseborough, Marc Maron plays acutely against-type as the charming, implausibly patient southern motel clerk with a heart of gold. His Sweeney initially seems like a too-soft touch doomed to be taken advantage of, yet his quiet disappointment in Leslie’s stumbles eventually builds to something more volcanic. Their back-and-forth is fantastic throughout, even if the romantic outcome feels a tad tacked-on.

Elsewhere in the ensemble rising actor Owen Teague, who was so terrific in another recent family drama, Montana Story, brings truth to the role of a son frustrated at having to support his own mother, while Alison Janney is spot-on as Leslie’s surly biker friend Nancy, and Stephen Root is an amusing sight to behold as Nancy’s tattooed, long-haired partner Dutch. The Wire’s Andre Royo also has a small but memorable role as Royal, the owner of the motel whose LSD-fried brain leaves him howling at the moon in his underwear on a nightly basis.

It’s this wonderful cast which allows Morris’ film to carry so well, especially over a two-hour runtime which could otherwise threaten to overwhelm. It’s not in a hurry to get to a pretty typical destination, but the journey there contains dramatic rewards a-plenty.

A heart-wrenchingly authentic character study, To Leslie provides another ripe opportunity for the great Andrea Riseborough to flex her highly versatile acting chops.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.

 

Leave a Comment