Film Review: TO LESLIE (2022)
Directed by: Michael Morris
Written by: Ryan Binaco
Produced by: Claude Dal Farra, Brian Keady, Kelsey Law, Philip Waley, Jason Shuman, Eduardo Cisneros, etc.
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Andre Royo, Owen Teague, Stephen Root, James Landry Hebert, Marc Maron, Allison Janney, etc.
Cinematography Larkin Seiple
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Cinema and booze have always been two of my favourite things to distract me before I stagger off to the great pub in the sky! And there have been some of the great drunken characters and performances over the years on the box or at the cinema. The drunk is an often-used archetype employed for tragic, humorous and, on occasions, heroically redemptive narrative purposes.
Getting drunk actually is certainly easier than acting drunk on screen. Al Pacino in Scarface (1983) was a monstrous example of venal intoxication, Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I (1987) gave us one of the most hilarious drunkards, while Dean Martin’s, Dude in Rio Bravo (1959) and Kilmer’s Doc Holliday in Tombstone (1994) were fine Western inebriates. Romantic dramas Leaving Las Vegas (1996) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962) fiercely show the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out.
Ray Milland won an Oscar in The Lost Weekend (1949) as the epitome of liquid self-destruction. While my favourite “drunk actor” of all time is the imperious soak, Willie Ross. His lagging-pisshead renditions are the best I have ever seen on screen! His character in Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) is a racist, sexist, unemployable, drunken bully who when stood up to would simply cower amidst his own weakness. Club comedian, Willie Ross would repeat the feat in classic British TV drama Our Friends in The North (1996) as Daniel Craig’s vicious alcoholic father.
So, how does Andrea Riseborough compare as a screen drunk in, To Leslie (2022), to the luminaries mentioned above. Well, along with director Michael Morris and writer Ryan Binaco, Riseborough is at the top of her game in this painfully accurate indie character study. They bravely make no attempt to make Leslie sympathetic or charismatic. She is an absolute car crash of a human being. The film opens with a flashback via television news report announcing Leslie as a major lottery winner. Back in the present day she is hammered, broke and getting chucked out of her dingy motel room. Does she attempt to recover and change? No, she tracks down her estranged son, James (Owen Teague), and immediately begins to leech from him and his friends. Teague is really impressive as a naïve and kindly soul trying his best not to get dragged down by his mother’s self-destructive impulses.
As the narrative progresses, Leslie defiantly refuses to adhere to any structure of sobriety, but gets lucky when Marc Maron’s hotel owner takes pity, providing her with a cleaning job and free board. Maron is on fine form here too, playing softer than some of his previously more alpha-male roles. Even after his help the addictive power of booze threatens to destroy what little Leslie has. Addiction is an illness and fatal flaw, strangling Leslie’s body and soulful quintessence.
Riseborough’s Leslie is an infuriating character to watch and experience. I have to admit that at times I even hated her. But that’s the point. Her drunk is a lost soul scrabbling to find the will to survive. Redemption is a town Leslie cannot locate. Later in the film there comes hope for Leslie, but I felt that the filmmakers arguably spent too much time on the pathetic and paralytic Leslie, rather than the silver-lined one. Her road to recovery was somewhat skimmed over in the final act. Nonetheless, Riseborough is magnetic, certainly deserving the Oscar nomination she received. However, I would not want to spend any further time with Leslie Rowland again. Drunk or sober.