The debate over who will win the coveted Best Actress award is heating up as the Academy Awards ceremony approaches. Michelle Yeoh has been and continues to be the favorite to win, but she faces stiff competition not only from Cate Blanchet in TAR, but also from this little-known actress Andrea Riseborough, who has received widespread acclaim for To Leslie. To Leslie is a small indie film about an alcoholic woman who is struggling to survive after squandering her lottery winnings on drugs and alcohol. Andrea reportedly received an unprecedented amount of support from fellow Hollywood actors, which resulted in her role in this tiny little seen film being noticed. I admit that I had never heard of this movie or the actress prior to the Oscar nomination controversy, and I made an effort to find it and see what all the fuss was about.
The verdict? While there is no denying Andrea Riseborough’s outstanding performance, I found the film to be less than thrilling. Andrea brings her character Leslie to life and makes her believable, and we easily sympathize with her. She effortlessly displays her emotional range, and it comes across as genuine as it can on screen. The film’s storyline, on the other hand, was a letdown. There wasn’t enough explanation for how the Leslie character became the way she was. What was she like before she won the lottery? Was she always an alcoholic prior to that? It was difficult to match her motivations in getting better without this background understanding of her character. Finally, the movie’s ending felt a bit too fairy tale which made its poignancy felt manipulative. It is claimed that the movie is “inspired by true events” which means this is predominantly fiction. I wonder if there will be a happily ever after ending for our protagonist in real life.
Nonetheless, I found To Leslie to be a compelling watch, thanks in large part to Andrea Riseborough’s outstanding performance. However, if I were to make my own judgment and comparisons based on the few Best Actress performances I have seen thus far, Cate Blanchet in TAR would be my choice. That role, I thought, was far more complex, had a wider range, and was a joy to watch. Of course, everything is relative, and everybody’s entitled to his or her own opinion. What’s more important is that we had the opportunity to enjoy a variety of excellent and diverse performances this past year.