SXSW 2022: To Leslie

Directed by: Michael Morris
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Taylor Baker


Michael Morris’ “To Leslie” presents the journey of a washed-up alcoholic named Leslie (Andrea Riseborough) who after winning the lottery blows her cash, abandons her child, and eeks out a meager existence going bottle to bottle and day to day. Morris has previously directed episodes in limited series like “Political Animals” and “The Slap” as well as prestige television shows like “Bloodline,” “House of Cards,” and “Halt and Catch Fire.” These efforts have allowed Michael the chance to hone his craft, and this maturity comes across fairly instantaneously as the film begins. He knows how to tell a story to an audience, and he lets his actors act. Riseborough is boisterous, loud, and grungy. She looks washed up and acts it. Delivering shameful lines like “Why’s this thing always such a mess?” as she turns her back to the cashier after admonishing her son for buying her underwear so that he can hand the cashier the bills while she holds onto the idea that she’s saved face. Buttressed by character actors like Stephen Root, Alison Janney, and Marc Maron Riseborough is able to range her character’s expressiveness in large swings with well-equipped players holding their own against her. Similar to Essie Davis in her many many roles Riseborough disappears into the character; she’s no longer the actress playing a character but seemingly the character herself.

Morris in conjunction with Cinematographer Larkin Seiple assembles a continuity of quality in image and scenes that while lacking expressiveness in and of itself does evoke the feeling of rundownness in West Texas and that Leslie is running on empty. For those familiar with Maron through his WTF with Marc Maron Podcast or his stand-up sets like “Thinky Pain” and “More Later” his real-life struggles with alcohol layer the text of his character Sweeney. Which adds believability to his no-bullshit compassion toward Riseborough’s Leslie. The film’s edges are rough, its plot trajectory clunky, but its coalescent experience of following Leslie through bottoming out has a strong emotionality that keeps the film engaging and generally compelling.

“To Leslie” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the SXSW Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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