Film Review: To Leslie

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, shares his thoughts on Michael Morris’ first feature film as director, To Leslie (M).

WORDS: Dave Bradley, Arts Reviewer

Pro-producer Michael Morris’ first feature film as director is a low-budget, hard-edged, tough-love-type character drama shot in a hurry and with all the usual COVID-19 problems, and while English star Andrea Riseborough is terrific and fearless in the title role, the whole thing should prove seriously triggering for anyone who’s ever dealt with addicts. As in probably all of you out there.

It also comes complete with an Academy Awards controversy, with claims that Riseborough’s nomination for Best Actress should have been withdrawn due to various violations of Oscar-related rules. And yet, all that aside, it’s still a great performance.

Her Leslie Rowlands is a West Texan who won $190000 in the lottery and wasted it all, and now, six years later, she’s homeless, hopeless, and hated. With nowhere else to go, she’s forced to attempt to reconcile with her now-20-year-old, painfully alienated son James (Owen Teague), but that quickly goes sour, and he contacts his feared grandmother Nancy (Alison Janney – who else?) and her biker partner Dutch (Stephen Root), who both reluctantly take our protagonist in because, as they say often, they’re “good Christian people”. But even the best “good Christian people” can’t handle the lying, stealing, alcoholic Leslie, and soon she’s on the streets.

This leads to the final extended section of this troubled tale and, surely, Leslie’s last chance at any sort of redemption, as she’s spotted sleeping beside a hotel by the place’s co-proprietor Sweeney, as played by actor, comedian and scary satirist Marc Maron. This soft-hearted character (ie. a complete pushover and a bit of a plot device) takes Leslie in, despite the protestations of the other co-owner Royal (Andre Royo), and offers her a room if she performs small cleaning and maintenance duties. So can she get her act/shit together and do the right thing? Hmm…

A difficult movie to like, perhaps, this is nevertheless strongly-played throughout, and Andrea is tremendous in the titular role. But can you bear to watch this story unfold when, chances are, you’ve lived it like this yourself?

Or, ahem, you actually are a Leslie?

TO LESLIE (M) is now playing at selected cinemas.

3.5 out of 5 STARS

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