MOVIE OF THE WEEK October 7, 2022: TO LESLIE

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Andrea Riseborough adds yet another memorable performance to her impressive filmography in director Michael Morris’ wrenching drama To Leslie. She’s heartbreakingly vulnerable as a West Texas woman who gets one last chance to turn her life around after she squanders a $190,00 lottery win and her drinking spirals out of control. At stake is her self-respect, any hope of happiness, and her relationship with her son, James (Owen Teague).

The movie’s opening credits establish Leslie as a hard-partying but loving mom to James, whom she raises alone after her relationship with his father turns abusive. Her unexpected jackpot seems like just what they need to establish a future full of possibility for them both. But Leslie’s fondness for the bottle drives a wedge between them and leaves her, six years later, estranged from James and on the verge of homelessness. He reluctantly takes her in, until she steals from both him and his roommate to buy booze, shredding any possibility of reconciliation with the son she claims to love more than anything.

James buys her a one-way bus ticket back to their hometown, where she’s met with scorn, mockery, and disgust by former friends and neighbors who know all too well what happened after her big win. Leslie seems headed for an ignominious end, until Sweeney (Marc Maron), who manages the local motel, takes pity on her and tries to give her a fresh start. Maron and Riseborough’s scenes together are a highlight of the film, as their characters are both world-weary but ultimately optimistic, able to seize small bits of humor and happiness when they can.

Screenwriter Ryan Binaco based To Leslie‘s script on real events, and the movie’s characters and their journeys have an authenticity that’s grounded in lived experience. The cast does impressive work, particularly Riseborough — her Leslie is a layered, complex person who is so much more than her dependency. And the movie’s honky-tonk soundtrack, featuring a jukebox’s worth of artists from Dolly Parton and Linda Perry to Waylon Jennings and George Jones, is plaintive perfection. Stories about people trying to overcome the beast that is addiction can be difficult to watch, but this is one that’s definitely worth the emotional investment. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Pam Grady: Leslie (Andrea Riseborough) was once on top of the world as the winner of a substantial lottery prize, but she blew through money and fell to the bottom of a whiskey glass. An incorrigible alcoholic, her behavior has burned all of her bridges, right down to the last one with her teenage son James (Owen Teague). Washing up in her West Texas hometown, she is out of friends, money, and hope until motel manager Sweeney (Marc Maron) throws her a lifeline. There is nothing terribly original in TV director Michael Morris’ first feature film, and the outlines of screenwriter Ryan Binaco’s redemption story are familiar. Balanced against that is the hardscrabble atmosphere that Morris creates that makes visceral Leslie’s desperation and how close she is to simply falling off the edge of the world. Riseborough is extraordinary as a woman trying to crawl her way back to some semblance of life and she receives excellent support from Teague, Maron, and Stephen Root and a barely recognizable Allison Janney as Leslie’s old friends who have washed their hands of her.

Nell Minow: Andrea Riseborough gives a fearless performance as Leslie, completely inhabiting the character without ever compromising to make her more appealing or exaggerating to show off her skill. She does not ask us to be compassionate toward Leslie as she allows her addictions to eradicate any sense of responsibility, dignity, or empathy. But her deep understanding and meticulous observation illuminates her portrayal.

Marilyn Ferdinand Winning $190,000 in a lottery might seem like the luckiest break many people could have. When combined with a serious addiction, however, heartache and ruin are likely to follow. This is the premise of director Michael Morris’ affecting film To Leslie. Andrea Riseborough gives a performance for the ages as a West Texas single mom whose sudden windfall evaporates in six short years in a haze of booze and drugs. Her fed-up and deeply hurt son and relatives refuse to take her in off the streets, and her return to the hometown where she bought her winning lottery ticket is greeted with vengeful cruelty. The characters created by screenwriter Ryan Binaco are brought believably to life by the talents of Allison Janney, Marc Maron, Andre Royo, Stephen Root, and a raft of skillful supporting actors who create an entire world that is so specific, yet so relatable. As for Leslie, she didn’t start out having a plan for the money she won, but in the end, she finds that losing everything helps her forge a life worth living.

Leslie Combemale To Leslie may be, on the surface, another hits-the-bottom addiction narrative, which I would have said I’d be happy to never see again. Then I saw Andrea Riseborough plays the title character. There’s never been a role she hasn’t metamorphosed to inhabit inside and out, and this is no exception. With each role, she finds some other angle, some new and very individual truth to bring to her audience. Every teardrop is hard won, coming from such authenticity it’s hard to tell where the character ends and Andrea begins. It is a mystery to me why she doesn’t already have several Oscars. Maybe this film will do it. People should also give more credit to Marc Maron, who holds his own playing against her, and that’s saying something.

Jennifer Merin To Leslie is a character-driven drama starring the always amazing Andrea Riseborough as a woman who needs a lot of help to escape the demons that have set her on a course to total self destruction via the unrelenting pull of alcohol addiction. Leslie starts this story on a high — she’s a working class single mom who wins the lottery and suddenly has a ticket to a better life. But things don’t turn out that way. Instead of saving, she sprees and the money gets wasted with her. The strong and compelling story is made more so by Riseborough’s superb performance. Allison Janney, Marc Maron, Andre Royo and Owen Teague are also brilliant in supporting roles. To Leslie is not an easy watch, but ultimately this is a story about getting well and it is extremely affecting. And, again, there’s the remarkable Riseborough.

Sandie Angulo Chen: To Leslie is an unforgettable addiction drama about a Texas woman whose dependence on alcohol has ruined every opportunity, every relationship in her life, including a six-figure lottery win and her ability to parent her young-adult son. Starring Andrea Riseborough in one of the best performances of her career, the film, directed by Michael Morris, is a testament to how both hitting rock bottom and trying to get well isn’t a straight line, but a collection of tiny victories punctuated by huge failures, again and again. The amazing supporting cast includes Marc Maron as a motel owner who empathizes with Leslie; Allison Janney as a former friend who has stopped empathizing; and Owen Teague as a son who has no clue how to care for or even communicate with his troubled mama. This isn’t an easy watch, but the performance and the authentic screenplay make it a powerful pick.

Loren King Andrea Riseborough gives the kind of knock down, drag out performance we’ve come to expect from this uncompromising and empathetic actor. “To Leslie” is a gritty, no holds barred portrait of a woman already on a fast slide to the bottom. An alcoholic single mother, she’s still infamous in her small West Texas town for winning and then blowing a $190,000 lottery jackpot. But when we meet Leslie, she’s already lost more than the money. Alcoholic binges, rage and desperate attempts to manipulate people who gave up on her long ago have alienated her 20 year-old son James (Owen Teague) and her once close friend Nancy (Allison Janney) who still seethes with resentment. Read full review.

Liz Whittemore After winning the lottery and losing it all, Leslie must tuck her tail between her legs and return to her West Texas hometown and the loved ones she abandoned. In To Leslie, director Michael Morris and screenwriter Ryan Binaco bring to life a woman seeking redemption in an uphill battle. Owen Teague plays James with the self-awareness needed to embrace Leslie as his mother while simultaneously keeping her at arm’s length for his well-being. His raw emotion vibrates off the screen. He is phenomenal. Marc Maron knocks it out of the park with his nervous, always well-intended attitude. He is a tremendous foil for Riseborough’s rough edges. His forgiving and kind nature allows the audience to take a breath and a step back while watching. I’m used to Maron playing characters with snark, but as Sweeney, we witness his range more clearly. Balancing vitriolic lashing out and the hope for redemption, Riseborough lays bare a woman at the end of her emotional rope. Watching her messy journey is challenging, but that is why Riseborough’s performance is so compelling.
To Leslie is a relatable story of second chances. Addiction is a relentless epidemic. Leslie represents someone everyone knows. This film is about grace, forgiveness, and the work it takes to change your life.

Cate Marquis To Leslie is the tale of a young, low-income single mother named Leslie (Andrea Riseborough) who wins the lottery, but fritters it all away on drinking and partying. Actually, this striking drama is not about the process of that dissipation of promise but the years-later aftermath, as Leslie hits rock bottom and becomes homeless, calling on the now-grown son (Owen Teague) she abandoned all that time ago. Eventually Leslie returns to her hometown, where she faces a wall of abuse and disapproval, and yet remains defiant and self-destructive. Riseborough gives a fearless, bracing performance as a woman with nowhere to go, who has lost herself along with everything, and still is her own worse enemy until an act of kindness offers a glimmer of hope. With strong performances by Allison Janney, Marc Maron, Andre Royo and Owen Teague, To Leslie is a raw, moving character-drive story of the depths of addiction and struggle toward hope of recovery.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: To Leslie

Directors: Michael Morris

Release Date: October 7, 2022

Running Time: 119 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Ryan Binaco

Distribution Company: Momentum

Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).