Heart-Wrenching Portrayal of Alcohol Addiction Scores Surprise Oscar Nomination

In the indie film "To Leslie," Andrea Riseborough goes to rock bottom and beyond. She's now in the running for a Best Actress Academy Award

January 25, 2023
Row of Oscar statuettes

“When you’re faced with the reality of your own life, and actually the emptiness and the hopelessness is so vast, the idea that something may quell that, even momentarily, is magical.”

That’s how actor Andrea Riseborough described addiction in an interview with NPR yesterday, so it’s no surprise she gives a riveting performance as Leslie, a mother and lottery winner whose life has been shredded by alcohol addiction, in the 2022 film “To Leslie.”

What is a surprise is that the voters for the Academy Awards took notice of the film, a tiny-budget indie project shot in 19 days. On Tuesday, Riseborough’s emotional, nuanced portrait of a woman made brittle and hopeless by addiction earned her a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, putting her in contention for an Oscar win alongside screen legends like Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh.

“To Leslie” begins as a snapshot of what appears to be an irredeemable life. The title character is a working-class Texas woman who wins a $190,000 lottery prize; six years later, she is living in motels or worse, alienating her closest friends and adult son, and returning to bars night after night. When a motel owner with his own history of addiction (played by Marc Maron, who is himself in recovery) offers her room-cleaning job and, eventually, friendship, Leslie sees the possibility of a different life.

The film doesn’t shy away from addiction’s ugly toll: Self-destruction, impoverishment, social stigma, physical withdrawal, and the anger, sorrow and exasperation of family and friends are all captured acutely. “To Leslie” may be a triggering watch for some in recovery. Riseborough’s performance is now in the pantheon of Oscar-anointed portrayals of addiction’s torment, which spans iconic roles from Ray Milland’s in “The Lost Weekend” (1945) to Nicholas Cage’s in “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995).

Yet — mild spoiler alert — Leslie’s arc ultimately bends toward hope and healing in sober life. “How wonderful that humans are able to come to a place, having felt so isolated and lonely, where there’s a sort of rebirth and excitement about life again,” said Riseborough. “I think the most important thing, which is what the film is about [is], you know, a healthy connection with others.”

If you want to check out the movie, you can stream or buy it on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube. The Academy Awards will be broadcast on March 12, 2023.

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