The movie that got Andrea Riseborough an Oscar nomination for best actress earlier this year is finally in Indian cinemas. Television veteran Michael Morris’s sensitive directing debut To Leslie traces the ups and downs (mostly downs) of an alcoholic single mother, played by Riseborough with mesmerising ferocity and tenderness.
Leslie wins a lottery but fritters it away. Six years later, she is a raging drunk, unable to stay put in one place or hold down a job. There are no depths to which Leslie will not fall for just one more drink.
Leslie’s hard journey to sobriety takes her past her beleaguered son James (Owen Teague), her friend Nancy (Allison Janney), and the stifling, small-town religious milieu from which she has tried so hard to escape. Help comes in the form of motel owner Sweeney (Marc Maron), but is Leslie too far gone for redemption? First-time director Morris, working on a superb script by Ryan Binaco, shields us from some of the worst consequences of Leslie’s addiction while never stinting on her emotional upheavals.
The cast includes The Wire actor Andre Royo as Sweeney’s business partner Royal. A former drug addict himself (a character type Royo also portrayed in The Wire), Royal shows Leslie the reality from which she has been fleeing.
Self-aware but self-serving too, Leslie does herself no favours. When Leslie visits James, she suggests a visit to the zoo. James demurs: “How would you like it if people stood around watching you suffer?” he wonders. “They do!” Leslie responds. Andrea Riseborough’s uninhibited, immersive and gut-wrenching performance lets us see the remnants of Leslie’s dignity while also confronting her weaknesses. When kicked out of yet another motel, she walks out with her head held high, only to slump at a bar shortly after.
There are major as well as minor emotional scenes, outbursts mingled with moments of reflection, a recognition of the struggle of addicts and the community’s role in helping them. Apart from Riseborough’s towering performance, there are lovely turns by the supporting cast, each playing a part in the larger puzzle that is Leslie.