Directed by: Michael Morris
Written by: Ryan Bianco
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Andre Royo, Owen Teague, Stephen Root, Marc Maron, Allison Janney
Released: March 9, 2023
Grade: B+

To Leslie

A talking point in this year’s awards season has been the unexpected emergence of 41-year-old English actress Andrea Riseborough.  After being overlooked for a nod at the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA, and SAG Awards, she pulled off a surprise Oscar nomination for her lead performance in the low-budget independent film, To Leslie.

So shocking was Riseborough’s nomination that the Academy of Arts and Sciences launched an internal investigation to see if something was amiss.  How could a film with no box-office and no publicity earn a nomination?  Yes, big studios pump millions of dollars into award campaigns each year but the Academy has “guidelines” in place to prevent forceful, over-the-top campaigning.  Whether these rules achieve anything is debatable but it’s clear the governing body wants winners and nominees selected on merit as opposed to influence, power and money.

The results of the investigation were announced five weeks ago with the Academy allowing Riseborough to keep her nomination but noting they “did discover social media and outreach campaigning tactics that caused concern.”  It’s probably the right result.  Given how many people were spruiking the performance (even Cate Blanchett did it during her Critics’ Choice Award acceptance speech), rescinding the first-time nod would have caused a shit storm with the potential to overshadow the eventual Oscar winner (likely to be Blanchett or Michelle Yeoh).

Putting all that to the side and looking at the film itself, it does deserve attention because of Riseborough’s terrific leading turn.  She plays the title character of Leslie, a middle-aged mother who won $190,000 in the lottery six years ago but is now homeless and penniless.  She is a walking train wreck who pissed the money away on cigarettes and alcohol and, in the process, destroyed relationships she had with friends and her teenage son.  As the film begins, she’s hit rock bottom… and those rocks are pretty sharp.

The film revolves around her efforts to make a fresh start and get things back on track.  That won’t be easy.  There’s no shortage of semi-reluctant people willing to help but Leslie is her own worst enemy.  Her now 19-year-old son lets her stay briefly at his apartment but, after Leslie steals money from his flatmate to spend on booze, he says “I’m not going to do this again” and immediately kicks her out.  It makes you wonder if some folk are beyond forgiveness and redemption.

The self-destruction gets repetitive in the middle act but I still admired this film as an interesting character study.  Leslie will lie and say anything to cover for her own mistakes and problems.  She’s a tortured, deluded soul and audiences will have varying levels of sympathy when judging her.  With a supporting cast including Allison Janney, Stephen Root, and a very good Marc Maron, To Leslie deserves its current 15 minutes of fame.