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To Leslie, Andrea Riseborough’s Performance As  An Alcoholic Mother Is Stunning



To Leslie

To Leslie

Rating: ****

There is  something downright ugly about a woman drinking herself to death in public. But then, somebody has to do the  dirty job. Andrea Riseborough’s portrayal of an alcoholic mother sinking to the bottom-most level of self-degradation, is  perhaps the best  portrayal  of  drunken despair  that  I have seen  before or  after Nicolas Cage  in  Leaving Las Vegas.

Ms Riseborough, I confess is  a revelation. I have not seen much of  her work except  Brighton Rock and Possessor where she ripped the screen apart with her unvarnished  virtuosity. In To Leslie she  is  viscerally compelling. I couldn’t take  my eyes off her devastated face every time she  was on screen , which is most of the time.

 It’s a  pity that she  holds  our attention so  rigidly  , as there is so much more to  admire in first-time feature film director Michael Morris’ essay on self-destruction.

 To Leslie just kills you with its fatal realism. From the first time we see Leslie on screen  as she exults in her triumph after winning the lottery in her smalltown in Texas  , to  her  absolute  degradation and  self-abnegation, the performance just  blows  us away. Throughout I kept wondering what Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway would have been had Ms Riseborough played the  lead  instead of Jennifer Lawrence.

Not  that Ms Lawrence lacked in  emotional velocity. But Riseborough is born to play characters who  stand  facing the wrath of life’s  vicissitudes . Leslie is  shot  in cramped rooms of  suburban apartments and  motels where she  does what she thinks  is rehabilitation.Little does she  know! Her addiction is so internalized we the audience feel  her pain and humiliation  almost first-hand.

Her son(played with gentle candour by  Owen Teague) takes her in on condition that she won’t drink. But of course she does. She then ends up in her hometown shacking  up with her former friend(the supremely talented Allison Janney with an unnecessarily  dyed hair and camp makeup) , kicked  out  of there too after  a night of  drop-dead drinking.

It is here that Leslie gets one more chance to  mend her  life. A kind motelier Sweeny(Marc Maron) comes forward with a job , accommodation and heaps of undeserved kindness.

Why is  Sweeny  so kind to the totally unruly Leslie? I guess the answer to that  lies  in  the glimmer of hope that we always find in  the darkest of times.

To Leslie is not really a story of hope. But it is  not without hope  either.  It  gives us a heroine  who is heroic  for being able to  survive her own monstrous  weaknesses. We  don’t applaud her for it. But at the  end she is not  a complete failure. We buy that.

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