Heartbreaking To Leslie Really is Oscar Worthy

Heartbreaking To Leslie Really is Oscar Worthy
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Heartbreaking To Leslie Really is Oscar Worthy. Gotta be honest, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to watch To Leslie without the hubbub about the Oscar nomination for Andrea Riseborough. There was quite the chaotic storm after Riseborough – who, apparently, no one had ever heard of prior to this imbroglio – got the dark horse of all dark horse Oscar nominations out of nowhere. But, um… while Cate Blanchett TÁR was a strong performance, it wasn’t loved… and although Ana de Armas blew some people’s minds as Monroe, it was about as controversial as it gets, and then there are the Michelles. I think there were some who didn’t think there was a pure Oscar candidate that could wrangle the votes in the Best Actress role.

But, boy, do we know here here at THiNC. – daggum do we know her! Hahaha. “Oh? Do we Taylor? Do tell, would you?” Happy to random internet denizen. Let’s start with Mandy. You know, the Nicolas Cage hopped up on adrenaline and hallucinogens story about a man seeking revenge in the ethereal hellscape that spewed from his drug crazed mind? Talk about Mindjob to end all Mindjobs?? hahaha. So yeah. Mandy. Oh, and what about Possessor? Recently we unpacked Infinity Pool by Brandon Cronenberg… but Possessor was hell on wheels too. Andrea Riseborough carried that crazy-jet-fueled insane ride straight into the ground. It was something. And what about Birdman, and that one shot film that was so utterly fantastic? Her Black Mirror episode, Crocodile, is fantastic. Please tell me you’ve watched all the Black Mirror episodes. But she is something of a chameleon – she can do anything. And yet if you see her in an interview… first, you’ll realize she’s British. Secondly, you’ll see she is aloof.

Riseborough is pretty much unrecognizable as a human being or as a star. But the fact that she was in four movies this past year says that she is easily castable… and can do really anything. So where the heck did To Leslie come from? And what is this controversy all about??

First The Riseborough Oscar Controversy

So To Leslie dropped at SXSW last March, and immediately got plowed over by Everything Everywhere All at Once. And even though To Leslie was widely given positive kudos, it hit at a time when Indie movies everywhere were getting missed. Heck, it made $30,000 at the box once it hit theaters. $30k? Like, how? Basically means it wasn’t marketed at all. Any. Couldn’t have been. It was so bad that Marc Maron – Riseborough’s costar literally accused the distributor of malfeasance. They didn’t even submit the film for Oscar consideration… like at all. It was so bad that some people decided to take matters into their own hands.

Normally, Oscar nominations start early… and then get cut down as time goes by. Sort of how High School Prom court gets decided. It’s nearly impossible to do anything last minute. But when a pile of stars hammered the socials on her behalf? All bets were off. I think it all started with Paltrow and Ed Norton dropping just MASSIVE posts about her performance. And later in the final week before everything was locked and voting occurred, dozens more celebrities took on the cause célèbre. Jennifer Aniston, Kate Winslet, Amy Adams (who is a force to be reckoned with in her own right) etc., etc., etc. Welp, come to find out, it was Riseborough’s manager that was pulling the puppet strings behind the scene. Not the movie distributor or the movie management at all. Jason Weinberg, Mary McCormack (who is married to the director of To Leslie, coincidentally)… they jumped in and got their hands dirty on Riseborough’s behalf. And voila… she was nominated. Here’s the part that interests me, and has kept me from talking about the movie at all yet, even though we are a thousands words in on this thing.

McCormack wrote an email extolling Riseborough’s performance, and sent it to most everyone she knew in Hollywood. The letter was then published by Vanity Fair. She waxed eloquent about movies like To Leslie were on the verge of extinction (and she’s not wrong, that’s for sure), and that the film needed the support of the industry. “Unless we all support small independent filmmaking, it’ll just get eaten up by Marvel movies and go away forever.” (Come on, I am SOOOO in for this sentence. I’m on record as hating all things Marvel movies. Their CG, their bombastic stupidity, their lack of character development, their empty hearts…. man, I HATE Marvel movies.) And with that?! She juggernauted Riseborough straight onto the podium. The only thing better? Would be if she won. But with the controversy circling just her nomination, there is no way she’ll win. If you didn’t know, as a result of the grass roots campaign, the Oscar rules will be changing. Because we can’t have independent films being considered after all! hahaha. (But I have to at least comment that two black women were shouldered out of the way with this one nomination (which is numerically impossible, but not morally) – and there was a LOT of vitriol shotgunned Riseborough’s way as a result of these high-jinks. “Black women in this industry, we don’t have that power…. There is no groundswell from privileged people with enormous social capital to get behind Black women. There never has been.”)

Heartbreaking To Leslie Really is Oscar Worthy

Heartbreaking To Leslie Really is Oscar Worthy

The movie opens with Leslie winning the lottery – $190,000 worth. But six years later, she has squandered the money on booze and drugs. And now, Leslie finds herself homeless having been kicked out of her motel. Hearing of her troubles, her son (who we can only assume saw her demise first hand) invites her to come live with him. James is working in construction and is absolutely everything she is not. Dependable, conscientious, hardworking, moral… and so he sets some ground rules. 1. She needs a plan. 2. No drinking. OOOoohhh I don’t drink anymore. Not like before. Hahahaha. Soon after, Leslie is caught stealing money from James’ roommate, and with liquor bottles in her bed (not subtle at all Leslie), and so James calls his grandmother for help.

Grandma and Dutch eventually allow Leslie to stay with them… but lock her out of the house when she is spotted at a local bar. Sleeping next to a motel, running from the owner, sexual advances at convenience store… Leslie is definitely not living her best, most fulfilled, life. When she heads back to the motel where she left her suitcase behind, she’s offered a job cleaning rooms by the owner. In return she’s given a room, and a small income. She’s regularly late to work, and spends all her money on alcohol. She even drunkenly visits her childhood home where a new family now lives. The owner of the motel comes and collects her and returns her to the motel.

Committing to change, the owner doesn’t fire her… this is her final chance. I mean, we all need grace, right? Hahaha. But she tries! She has nowhere else to go. So, she focuses on the job, and she suffers through the alcohol withdrawal. And out of that, Leslie and Sweeney – the motel owner – become friends. Sweeney was also an addict as well. When Leslie goes with Sweeney to a fair, she meets his daughter and granddaughter. But that transitions into a run-in with Nancy for Leslie’s abandonment of James back when he was a child. Wait, what? We knew it probably wasn’t rosy being her son, but what happened now?

As a result, Leslie quits her job – and calls James, leaving a message saying that she loves him. She then goes to the bar, orders a beer, but leaves it there without touching it. Sweeney begins hunting for Leslie, pretty sure that something bad is about to happen. But he arrives at the bar after she has already left. Sitting in an ice cream shop across from the motel, she watches for Sweeney to return from hunting for her. What does she want now? Well, she wants to renovate the ice cream parlor… that’s what. Waaiiiit what?

Jump forward 10 months, we see that Leslie is sober, and with the help of Sweeney and Royal, she has, in fact, reopened the shop, and turned it into a diner. But on the first day, no one comes in. Zero customers. At closing time, Nancy arrives, and Leslie blames her for sabotaging her new start. But instead of reacting violently in return, Nancy apologizes. Wait, what? What for? Well, Nancy apologizes for not being present throughout Leslie’s life. And surprise… Nancy has brought James as well. And with that, Royal and Sweeney prepare a meal for them as the movie ends with their embracing.

I Didn’t See To Leslie Coming

To say that I didn’t see To Leslie coming is true, and it’s true, and it’s also true. I hadn’t heard of To Leslie, and I should have. I mean, I study indie film calendars like they are talismans (shouldn’t it be talismen??). I didn’t see the Oscar thing coming and I consider Twitter Film World like it’s a second home to me. And having watched the film… I didn’t see that ending coming. I was sure this one was going to end with Leslie’s suicide. Or some other tragedy. And I gotta say, To Leslie is the most emotionally destructive movie I’ve watched since Timothy Chalamet’s Beautiful Boy.

The key to this movie is in a single moment… well, two. The first is Leslie’s buying herself a beer, and then leaving it there at the bar untouched. Then, towards the end of the film, at the end of her first day with the diner… she nabs a flask and goes out on the porch and smells the alcohol. She stands there pensively… thinking. And there are universes held in that long extended glance into her eyes. Worlds and universes and black holes of addiction crying out into the darkness. She walks out to the edge of that precipice, and then shakes off her revelry and puts the flask back. Books could be written, volumes of books, about that one glance. The additive’s stare out into the darkness of addiction, yenning for that warm embrace of connection and acceptance by that particular substance… whatever it might be. But Leslie walks away from the siren’s call. And as a result we get the possibility of this sort of redemptive, salvific ending. Personally, as an addict of sorts myself, I see the sham for what it is. Hollywood is saying here… redeem yourself with hard work and willpower, and all of the grace and forgiveness will be yours. I cry bullshit.

To say I hated this movie is an understatement. But that’s only because I’m an emotionally frayed and broken human being that abhors deep cutting emotions that align with parental abandonment et al. The James in me wanted to see Leslie toss herself off the nearest bridge. And yet, I hated myself for loving the fact that she found reconciliation at the end of the day. Diner be damned.

Edited by: CY