To Leslie is a heart-pounding redemption story

Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie.
Andrea Riseborough in To Leslie. Photo credit: Image courtesy of SXSW

To Leslie sees Andrea Riseborough in another career-defining role as an alcoholic mother in a west Texas town. Debuting at SXSW 2022, the film is one of the most emotionally authentic portrayals of addiction to be seen.

But this isn’t a harrowing portrayal of alcohol abuse—for example, Denzel Washington’s dark portrayal of addiction in Flight. Instead, To Leslie approaches the subject with a gigantic heart and it will leave that heart full of feeling.

Should you watch To Leslie at SXSW? Here’s our full review of the latest film starring Andrea Riseborough.

To the Leslie review

The film revolves around Leslie (Andrea Riseborough), a single mother who six years earlier won the lottery – $190,000 to be exact – and made the unfortunate mistake of burning her entire fortune on the wrong things.

When we meet Leslie, she’s near rock bottom. She was kicked out of her motel for not paying the rent and has little to her name other than a few photos and a small pink suitcase of clothes.

Homeless and barely sober, she makes her way to her son James (Owen Teague). From here we get a sense of separation between them. He wants to give her a chance like any son would, but the hopelessness of letting Leslie into his house reads loudly on his face.

But after Leslie breaks his ground rules, she gets kicked out by her own son. And the devastation, the heartbreak, and the trauma remade are written all over James.

With no other choice, she is forced to return to her small town and live with Nancy (Allison Janney) and Dutch (Stephen Root), the couple who babysat James when Leslie disappeared and became an alcoholic many years ago.

Just outside the gate, the amount of resentment Nancy has for Leslie is clear, and Dutch has a “one strike and you’re out” policy when Leslie is at her house. And of course she strikes.

And from here the actual story arc begins with Leslie since she has nothing left. A man named Sweeney (Marc Maron) runs a motel and decides to give her a chance. He offers her a minimum wage job and a room at the motel as long as she does a good job.

Andrea Riseborough at the Los Angeles Special Screening of Annapurna Pictures'
Andrea Riseborough at the special screening of Annapurna Pictures’ If Beale Street Could Talk in Los Angeles Photo Credit: ©ImageCollect.com/ImagePressAgency

The beauty of To Leslie is that it doesn’t remain hopeless. The film doesn’t leave you feeling in the pit of your stomach like The Wrestler or Leaving Las Vegas.

Once she has the right person saying the right things, it becomes a personal survival story. We then see Leslie trying to fight back against the monster, which has her drowning in the intoxicating liquid. And no matter how hard everyone tries, family and friends can offer an addict a world of wisdom and opportunity. But it takes a personal desire to want that — and even then, it’s still a big hill to climb.

Personally, this reviewer, a family member, has fought the same battle with drinking and has gone through a similar journey as James. The story beats were so similar that to be honest, To Leslie was overwhelming to experience – and this is credited as complementing the film.

Leslie’s journey is said to be based on a true story. And honestly, it feels so extremely authentic that it has to be true. Between Riseborough’s brilliant performance going from someone who frustrates audiences to a loveable and vulnerable outsider, she truly deserves to be at the awards ceremony. But since it’s March, who knows if that will happen.

Marc Maron is also wonderful in this film. For someone who does so well comedically, Maron almost feels better suited to the drama. His presence always feels reassuring in roles, even when he’s playing a nag like his role on the Netflix series GLOW. And Maron and Riseborough have amazing chemistry in this film.

While the tale of alcoholic recovery is nothing new, To Leslie feels brand new through the redemption of a neglectful mother. And while there are raw, depressing moments in the film, the cinematic heart will be at its fullest around the time the credits roll.

Should you watch To Leslie?

To Leslie is a difficult observation to begin with as it deals with family trauma and addiction. But of all the substance abuse recovery stories of redemption, this one has a giant heart worn on her sleeve.

With Andrea Riseborough’s heartbreakingly tender performance and exceptional cast and direction, To Leslie is one of the best films SXSW 2022 has produced.

Readers who want more SXSW 2022 content can read our reviews from Everything everywhere at once and turn me around

Leslie will have another demonstration at SXSW 2022 tomorrow at 9pm CST.

https://www.monstersandcritics.com/movies/sxsw-film-review-to-leslie-is-a-redemption-story-that-will-make-the-heart-explode/ To Leslie is a heart-pounding redemption story

Callan Tansill

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