Oscars: Criticism of “To Leslie”, by Michael Morris
One of the big surprises of the Oscars announcement was the nomination for best actress of the British Andrea Riseborough. Although some already anticipated that he could approach the final five, it only began to be in the calculations of many when a series of fellow actors began, a few weeks ago, to write posts on social networks talking about how good his performance was in this film that had been released in theaters a few months ago without much impact. It is not clear if it was a move by the armed press and pay the type that is done with “influencers» or something more organic, generated from the appreciation of the work and the friendship of those colleagues with Riseborough, but the truth is that this chain of favors pushed by names like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Demi Moore , Mia Farrow, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jennifer Aniston and Jane Fonda, among others, ended up giving her the nomination for Best Actress. POSSESSOR, THE DEATH OF STALIN and the series ZEROZEROZERO.
His appearance in the shortlist generated somewhat strange controversies. Many were angry because Viola Davis (THE WOMAN KING) and/or Danielle Deadwyler (TILL), which ultimately left no African-American nominees. And the other is more linked to the supposed “privilege” of having famous actors who support your candidacy and are followed and read by thousands of Academy voters. In my opinion, I don’t see any problem with his way of campaigning without using the traditional methods of ads, projections with events, giveaways and other gimmicks that studios use to get voters to pay attention to their candidates. And neither would it be in the head of the actress or of those who carried out her campaign that, by promoting her, yes or yes, a problem would be generated with the supposed racial quota of the category. They used current media, it worked for them and that’s it.
The question is another: is the nomination justified? Without going into comparisons to the others, I think Riseborough’s work here is remarkable, one that could have fallen for all the clichés of the genre.”intense indie film» but it doesn’t. Or, she manages to pull off an interesting twist when it looks like she’s going to. Morris’ first feature film, an English director with extensive experience in series, including several episodes of BETTER CALL SAUL, the film tells the story of Leslie, a low-class Texas woman who – as seen in television images at the beginning of the film – has won the local lottery, keeping $190,000 with which she plans to put her life back on track. Judging by the girl’s tone and inordinate enthusiasm, one can imagine that that didn’t happen.
Morris reprises the character six years later. Leslie is now an alcoholic woman, kicked out of the motel where she lives for non-payment and who goes to live with one of hers, her son James, a 20-year-old young man whom she stopped seeing all that time. . The boy receives her with apprehension, makes it a condition for her that she not drink and find a job or a life plan, but she barely remains on her own, looking for and stealing money from the roommate of his son and goes to buy alcohol. So it goes until James discovers her, he throws her out and the woman goes back to living on the street.
Soon a friend from before receives her, Nancy (Alison Janney) with her partner Dutch (Stephen Root), who have an uncomfortable relationship with her for something that, evidently, happened in those years in which the woman squandered all her money and that will be revealed later. The relationship starts out tense and, as soon as they find her drinking from her again, they lock her out of her house, forcing her to live on the street again, which leads her to go through other, more dangerous problems.
When everything seems to get worse due to circumstances and Leslie’s inability to cut his addiction, a certain Sweenie (the comedian and podcaster Marc Maron) sees her in bad shape – the woman had just had a difficult night -, offers her a job cleaning rooms in the motel he is in charge of along with the extravagant Royal (André Royo, the mythical Bubbles from THE WIRE) and she accepts. From then on, TO LESLIE will deal with the difficulties that the woman will have to get out of that hole, try to keep her job, tolerate the aggressions of some people who knew her in her worst days (including Nancy, Dutch and a certain Pete), not drink again and to somehow try to put his life back together thanks to the support and patience of his strikingly kind new bosses.
Morris starts from an approach seen several times in independent cinema: the life of the alcoholic who has lost everything, who lives on the streets and who has a hard time getting out of that life and recovering something of what he used to be. He is a type of character that, in the male version, harkens back to Dustin Hoffman in LOST IN THE NIGHT or examples like that of Harry Dean Stanton in PARIS, TEXAS and even the character of Riley Keough in THE FLORIDA PROJECT. Riseborough’s Leslie falls into that format. And when the movie begins, one fears that Leslie borders on the cliché of that character. white trash –alcoholic, loud, foul-mouthed and very gesticulating– repeated in so many other films. But when everything seems to go that way, the character begins to change and the performance of the British reaches superlative levels.
It is that Leslie’s journey is more complicated than it seems. If one watches the first half hour of TO LESLIE You will think that the Riseborough nomination is nothing more than the celebration of an overflowing, abrupt, torn and somewhat excessive performance, the kind that actors like to reward each other. And although that element does not disappear completely, once the woman accepts that job at the motel, what stands out is her internal struggle, the sensation that she transmits of wanting and not being able to, of fighting against internal demons that do not allow her to escape The addiction. And there the character and the performance reach other levels.
The film doesn’t reinvent gunpowder or present something we haven’t seen before in much independent cinema about this world of country music bars, family feuds, rampant alcoholism and a climate of violence always on the verge of exploding. But Sweeney’s appearance (and Maron’s performance) turns the story around and also the type of story, making it more humane and less brutal, more compassionate and less cynical. Moore understands these characters and knows that, despite the tremendous things they may have done or continue to do, they still have a desire to be better, to get out of that pit. But rarely do they find people who will lend a hand to do it and to hold them up in relapses. That angle is what makes TO LESLIE in a best picture and to Riseborough in a performance that well deserves to be nominated for an Oscar, beyond all controversy…