Debates over Oscar campaigning aside, there’s no doubt Andrea Riseborough gave an award-caliber performance.
She stars as Leslie in the film, which picks up six years after the character won nearly $200,000 through the lottery. In the present day, Leslie’s bank account has run dry, with her having gone through the money she won.
She finds herself at the movie’s start not only homeless, but also an alcoholic. After briefly staying at her son’s apartment, she finds herself at a motel where the owners decide to take a chance and give her a job. There, she has a chance to restart her life, but it’s not made easy because of her addiction and past mistakes.
Showcasing the experience of living and struggling in poverty has a longtime presence in film history. It’s a genre of drama that can thoroughly explore class, the forces that put people in a situation of poverty, how difficult it can be to get out, and what it sometimes forces people to do.
Some truly fantastic movies have been made on the subject including classics of the 40s like “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Bicycle Thieves.” It extends to recent movies as well, such as “Parasite,” “Minari,” “Nomadland” and “Emily the Criminal.”
At the same time, some movies exploring the subject can end up being too melodramatic, manipulative and take too generic of a route with storytelling. “To Leslie” is a film that falls somewhere in between.
In some sections, the film is raw and intense, showing Leslie hitting rock bottom after an offscreen downward spiral. It makes for some engaging drama, especially in scenes where Leslie is interacting with her son as well as her having to deal with some of her former friends that she burned bridges with.
At the same time, “To Leslie” can feel stereotypical in its approach. It has a traditional comeback story for a down-on-their-luck character and a fairly standard romance, and the film doesn’t branch out into anything very interesting beyond that.
It feels like a wasted opportunity, because the subject of what happens to a person after they win the lottery, and the potential for someone to lose that money, is an interesting topic. According to a 2018 study by Wolf Street, nearly one-third of U.S. lottery winners have declared bankruptcy.
There’s an opportunity to tell a deeper story about the lottery system, and how even by winning a person may not move up to another class financially. “To Leslie” doesn’t quite dig as deep on the matter as one would like.
However, even though the film can seem shallow, it is benefitted by the lead performance, which has now received an Academy Award nomination. Even though there’s been some controversy over the nom, and there were some other great performances missing out, Riseborough proves on screen that she belongs in the competition.
She gives this role everything she has, and it shows. Her character’s trouble with alcohol, anger at the world, manipulative tendencies and regret about life are all brought to screen convincingly because of the portrayal.
Supporting cast members play a good part, too. Oscar winner Allison Janney is solid as expected and Marc Maron is good on screen as the romantic interest. In the end, Director Michael Morris and writer Ryan Binaco, created a film that isn’t as memorable as similar pictures, but is made well enough for a viewer to be invested in and is bolstered by a talented cast. 3.5 out of 5.
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