To Leslie

Year: 2022
Production Co: BCDF Pictures
Director: Michael Morris
Writer: Ryan Binaco
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Marc Maron, Owen Teague, Allison Janney, Stephen Root

Somewhere in Hollywood there's a genius guerilla marketer who's got countless people to watch movies that otherwise never would have found an audience, their notoriety completely unconnected from the story in the movie.

The obvious expression of it is the aura of grubby mystique the once-banned video nasty titles now hold for movie lovers my age (Gen X), and to this day a narrative about a movie emerges in the media that has everyone talking about a film because of some scandal or just a newsworthy hook - one that's particularly easy to disseminate in the online era.

In some other universe, a low budget Western starring Alec Baldwin called Rust probably would have sunk without a trace, but how many people will now watch it out of morbid fascination about the tragic accidental killing of DP Halyna Hutchins during filming?

All I knew about this movie was that someone was in trouble for campaigning for star Andrea Riseborough in the Best Actress race in a way than ran contrary to the Academy's rules. Why I thought I'd get anything out of the movie I have no idea, but I wanted to see what had caused all the fuss, so that genius underground marketing guru did his/her job beautifully.

Riseborough is the Leslie of the title, an alcoholic trailer trash with no redeeming features. After the in-credits sequence showing her winning big in a lottery, we're hardly surprised to see her a handful of years later still destitute after blowing it all on drink and drugs.

She's back to spending her nights in the fleapit bars of her southern US hometown, getting drunk and wasting her life, but when she gets kicked out of the dingy motel she's been living in Leslie is finally out of options.

She gets on a bus to go and stay with her son James (Owen Teague) in the city, who it's obvious loves her but doesn't completely trust her, telling her she can stay until she gets herself worked out as long as she doesn't drink.

Then, when she steals money not only from James but his roommate, you're sure she's a piece of shit who doesn't deserve anything or anyone. Angrily he throws her out, putting her on another bus back home where her former friend Nancy (Allison Janney) and Nancy's partner Duke (Stephen Root) have reluctantly agreed to take her in.

You're even less interested in her redemption when she shits all over their generosity too, coming home drunk again and finds her bags outside and the door locked.

Leslie hits what looks like rock bottom, spending the night lying against a brick wall in the forecourt of a highway motel. The manager, Sweeney (Marc Maron) chases her off and she runs, leaving her suitcase behind and hiding in the rundown, disused ice cream stand across the road.

When she returns after a day or so for her things, Sweeney, who runs with motel with his weird Native American friend Royal, assumes she's a woman who's been calling about a job and offers her room and board if she'll clean rooms.

For a long time Leslie still can't get her shit together, going out all night, drinking, frequently showing up for work late, and it's when Sweeney intends to fire her and kick her out that Leslie decides to turn her life around.

There's no grandstanding Hollywood moment (she's already been through several) – to the film's credit she just somehow realises she's surrounded by chances and is throwing her life away.

She starts the semblance of a normal life with Sweeney and eventually tells him she wants to restore the ice cream stand and turn it into a diner, a dream she had years before.

The script is clever because – while there was never any doubt it'd be a redemption tale – you're surprised how much you change your view of Leslie after being sure she deserves everything that's happening to her and how worthless she is. The story will convince you, against your better judgement, that we all deserve another chance.

For a long time I was ready to dismiss it as povvo porn, a realistic portrayal of someone you wouldn't want to spend five minutes with in real life, and while there's nothing groundbreaking in it, it's a good example of a movie eliciting empathy in the viewer.

I'm not sure it deserved the infamy it had because of the misguided Oscar campaign, but Riseborough is certainly a bit of a chameleon. I remember how attractive she was when I first saw her in Made in Dagenham and films like Oblivion – here she's so bedraggled and broken down she looks ready to be thrown away.

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