To Leslie Garners Oscar Nod for Andrea Riseborough in Long-Shot Bid for Gold

To Leslie

To Leslie was shot in 19 days, but, come 2023 Oscar time, its star, Andrea Riseborough, has earned an Oscar nomination, even if the movie only earned $27,000 worldwide. When I saw it at SXSW in 2022, I was impressed by the entire cast, but the lead performance was so honest and genuine that it dominated those of the others in the ensemble cast.

Owen Teague played the son in this story. He is far from the best-known name in the one-hour and 59-minute film. Michael Morris directed. It’s worth mentioning that Morris was the executive producer of the 2016 series “Bloodlines,” in which Owen Teague appeared as Young Danny. He found a script from a talented writer (Ryan Binaco) that spoke to him, because of events of his own childhood, and he knew that Andrea Riseborough was right for the lead. She certainly is, as she shows no vanity whatsoever in depicting a woman who hits rock bottom and then must try to scramble her way back to the top.

The film is based on the real-life story of a West Texas single mom who won the lottery and lost it all to her addiction to alcohol. The film had a very personal connection for its director, whose mother suffered from alcoholism. Oscar winner Allison Janney (“I, Tonya!”), Stephen Root (the stapler guy in “Office Space”), and Marc Maron (“G.L.O.W.”), who also executive produced, have leads. Royal is portrayed by Andre Royo (“The Wire”), also a fine character actor on stage and screen and a writer. But the film’s lead (Leslie) is Andrea Riseborough, who has been acting since she was 7 years old, which means 36 years.

The film stars Andrea Riseborough, a British actress who has been hailed by the Sunday “Times” as one of Britain’s rising young stars, along with such other luminaries as Hugh Dancy and Eddie Redmayne. She graduated from the London Academy of Royal Arts (RADA) in 2005, but her West Texas accent is completely convincing. The script is courtesy of screenwriter Ryan Binaco; the Cinematographer is Larkin Seiple.

Riseborough was so good in the part that other actors and actresses (Helen Hunt, Cate Blanchett, Ed Norton) sang her praises on social media and even had some private screenings at their homes to tout her work. All of this was done more-or-less without any active lobbying from Riseborough, herself, but it was aimed at voting members of the Screen Actors’ Guild. And that set off a backlash against her totally unexpected nomination for an Oscar when two prominent black actresses who had been expected to earn nods did not. Investigations were held to see if any “rules” were violated, but, to date, the nomination holds and Andrea Riseborough is, for sure, a rising star whose work will garner more notice in the future.

Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie” at SXSW.

The opening scenes of “To Leslie” show a jubilant young mother celebrating winning $190,000 in the lottery and declaring that drinks are on her. Six years later, she’s broke and the drinks have definitely been plentiful during those years (and mostly consumed by her).

We learn that the young mother of the opening scene abandoned her son (Owen Teague as James) and his step-mother (Allison Janney) was forced, along with Dutch (Stephen Root) to raise him, by default. To say that Allison Janney’s character is angry and resentful is an understatement. Andrea’s portrayal of a woman who has gotten by on looks and charm but is now past those halcyon days of her youth is intense and convincing. I was reminded of Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” who opines, “I have always depended on the kindness of others” as Leslie’s femme fatale vibe begins to wither on her increasingly mature vine.

Owen Teague Heads to SXSW With a Quiet Drama and Twisty Horror
Owen Teague, “young Danny” of “Bloodlines,” co-star of “To Leslie.”

The film depicts Leslie hitting rock bottom and trying to claw her way back to at least the middle. She is extended a lifeline on that bootstrap journey by Marc Maron’s character of Sweeney, the manager of a seedy motel on the edge of town. Sweeney is running it for Andre Royo’s character of Royal. Royal was left the motel by his family but, because he took too much acid in his younger days, it has left him with mental impairments that make Marc Maron’s participation in running the place essential.

As Leslie gradually swears off the booze and gets sober, she and Marc Maron’s character and Royal assist her in renovating an ice cream parlor on the edge of town. The happy ending involves, once again, son James (Owen Teague), to whom Leslie turns when things are at their bleakest. All’s well that ends well with this female film equivalent of “Leaving Las Vegas.”

The acting was very, very good, although the true story has been told many times previously. (Even “A Star Is Born” touches on the old familiar story of alcoholism.)

I did enjoy watching Andre Royo strip nearly naked and race around amongst the cactus and sand of a west Texas prairie, as we are told in the script he is prone to do. Marc Maron’s offer of a job cleaning motel rooms and washing the laundry makes you wonder if he has romantic designs on Leslie and, yes, that seems to be the case as the film winds down.

You can watch the film on Prime Video ($6.99) before the Oscar telecast. Then we can all wait and see if Riseborough has any chance of pulling off the greatest upset in Oscar history.

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About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson ( ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books in a variety of genres (, has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo's Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, Weekly Wilson is also the name of her podcast on the Bold Brave Media Global Network on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. (CDT).