‘To Leslie’ – Review

To Leslie tells a complex story by handling a complicated subject matter well, helmed by a standout performance from Andrea Riseborough.

To Leslie follows the story of Leslie Rowlands (Andrea Riseborough), a former lottery winner who blows through her winnings on drugs and alcohol, leaving her homeless and destitute. After she connects with her adult son, James (Owen Teague), Leslie sets out on a path to put her life back on track, but not without the help of some new and old friends. 

While the film garnered controversy earlier this year for Riseborough’s Academy Award nomination (the film has made a little over $27,000 in box office revenue to date), it serves as an interesting take on addiction struggles. Ultimately, Leslie’s character arc is consumed in her ongoing struggle to breakthrough the grips of alcoholism and substance abuse. And for its approach to such subjects, the movie (namely its screenplay) should be commended. While subjects such as addiction can be tricky to navigate, this film handles it with a great balance of not glamorizing Leslie’s struggles, or trying too hard to be gritty or edgy, while still providing a lens of compassion.

The film isn’t excusing Leslie’s poor choices, but it also doesn’t villainize her. She has many people in her life who are rooting for her, even through the continuing disappointment they receive from her, and the complex relationships that have arisen from the consequences of her addiction are ever apparent. It would be easy for the film to take the predictable turn of covering the story of how Leslie reconciles with her son, or her friend, Nancy (Allison Janney), sugarcoating the road to recovery.

But it doesn’t opt for the easy. It shows Leslie struggling to find work, and nearly losing her job over her constant squandering of her money at the bar. Yet, she finds compassion in her boss, Sweeney (Marc Maron), who can relate to Leslie’s struggles, as a recovering addict himself. Her friendship with Sweeney, the one person who can truly understand her mindset, is what ultimately sets her on the path to sobriety and recovery. Watching that storyline play out is one of the better parts of the film. 

If nothing else, To Leslie opens the floor up for an honest conversation around addiction struggles. 

The performances in this film are beautiful. Controversy aside, Riseborough gives an inspired performances as the titular character, showcasing a range that is not being talked about enough (this performance in contrast to her performance in 2022’s Matilda the Musical alone is impressive). She gives the entire process of addiction her all, without ever making a caricature of it. We witness the highs, the lows, the manipulation, the withdraws. Regardless of whether or not the performance is “Oscar worthy” or not, it’s unfortunate that the controversy around this nomination has seemed to overshadow a genuinely brilliant performance. 

The supporting cast for this film is also brilliant, with standout performances from Janney and Maron. The final scene shared between Leslie and Nancy is a highlight of the film, and Nancy’s character arc arguably showcases the complex dynamics that addiction can destroy between loved ones. Maron’s performance as Sweeney is also wonderful, as he showcases being the champion Leslie needs, without being passive. The overall ensemble work in this film should be commended. 

While To Leslie may have been the biggest Oscar surprise of the season, it is at its core, a film that tackles a tricky subject matter well. While Andrea Riseborough’s performance is inspired, the screenplay carries a complex story and deserves to be lauded too.

Grade: B+

Oscar Prospects:
Nominated: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Andrea Riseborough)
Should Have Been Considered: Best Original Screenplay

Where to Watch: VOD

Lex Williams
she/her @alexiswilli_
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett
Sign: Capricorn

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