Film Review: To Leslie; Is Andrea Riseborough’s shock Oscar nomination justified?

  • Peter Gray
  • March 9, 2023
  • Comments Off on Film Review: To Leslie; Is Andrea Riseborough’s shock Oscar nomination justified?

In the lead up to the Best Actress nominations at this year’s Oscars, Andrea Riseborough was not a name oft-thrown around.  That’s not to say she didn’t deserve to be in the chatter, but after Cate Blanchett (Tár) and Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once) continued to trade winning speeches throughout each major precursor – with the likes of Viola Davis (The Woman King), Danielle Deadwyler (Till), Ana de Armas (Blonde), and Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans) watching gracefully by – Riseborough’s last-minute surge couldn’t help but be met with hesitation.

And, honestly, the suspicion that was cast on whether or not Riseborough’s award campaign was executed in the most legitimate of fashions is the best thing that could happen to her film, as To Leslie is a fine, familiarly-travelled drama that ordinarily would be severely overlooked.  A celebrity-backed campaign that paid off in spades, Riseborough is undoubtedly great in the film, and her performance is more effective if its viewed on its own merits, and not whether or not her nomination is as worthy when compared to the likes of Davis or Deadwyler.

Putting the politics aside, To Leslie is a relatively conventional drama focusing on its titular character (Riseborough) who wins big in the lottery ($190,000, to be exact) and seemingly has grand plans for herself and her son, James (Owen Teague).  Squandering it all on liquor and drugs, six years later and Leslie is destitute, biding her time between the streets and cheap motels.  James, now 20, reunites with her and reluctantly agrees to let her stay with him for a short period of time, under the provision that she not drink.  Given Leslie’s addictive personality we know this won’t last, and much of To Leslie‘s 119 minute running time devotes itself to her promising to do better then negating on such.

“I’m sick”, is often Leslie’s response when she’s confronted on her failings as a human and as a mother, and seemingly content to play the victim she often retaliates that she, herself, was never taken care of; Alison Janney as her mother, Nancy, battling her own emotions as she scolds Leslie for how she has treated James, whilst knowing her emotional distance has led to Leslie’s downward spiral.

Director Michael Morris and screenwriter Ryan Binaco lean into the story’s melodramatic temperament with a slew of tropey additives – the seedy motels, the humiliating drunken behaviour – and because Riseborough is as good as she is, it’s easy to let her performance blind audiences to the fact that To Leslie travels a road we’ve seen before and indulges in more of a happy sheen than what such a story should adhere to.  I’m not saying addicts can’t overcome their burdens and clean their acts up, but To Leslie does it in a very “Hollywood” manner, and this is often quite at odds with the organic temperament that Riseborough seems to be reaching for in her performance.

Whilst it does indulge in some stereotypicalities, it still can’t be denied that To Leslie is an effective film, and Riseborough is really the primary reason it works.  Though there is some justification in the uproar surrounding her nomination – or, more correctly, the manner in which she attained it – it’s still a shame that it’s overshadowing her efforts.  Another less pleasant filmic experience that revels in the ugliness and the flaws of human beings, To Leslie is worth a watch for Riseborough’s committed turn.


To Leslie is now screening in select Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.