To Leslie review round-up: What critics thought of the controversial Oscars contender

Kate Winslet called Andrea Riseborough’s lead turn ‘the greatest female performance on screen I have ever seen in my life’ – but what did film critics think?

Ellie Harrison
Wednesday 01 February 2023 10:56 GMT
To Leslie trailer

To Leslie, the small indie movie that took in just $27,000 (£22,000) at the box office, has been making headlines in recent weeks for its passionate Oscars campaign.

Cate Blanchett singled out Andrea Riseborough’s lead performance while accepting an award for her own film Tár. Edward Norton wrote an entire Twitter thread about her “physically harrowing” portrayal. And Kate Winslet called Riseborough’s turn “the greatest female performance on screen I have ever seen in my life”.

Last week, it was announced that Riseborough had secured a Best Actress nomination for her role in the film, as a spiralling single mother who wins the lottery.

The Academy then launched a review into campaign procedures, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began to trend on social media, with some pointing out that actors Viola Davis (The Woman King) and Danielle Deadwyler (Till) had been snubbed in the nominations.

Riseborough will not have her nomination stripped, but the Academy has said that tactics used in her film’s campaign “caused concern”.

The social media posts that are believed to have been problematic were ones that not only championed Riseborough but also made reference to her competitors, which is forbidden.

But what it all surely comes down to is this question – is the film, and Riseborough’s performance, really as good as her Hollywood friends have claimed? It appears so. Find out more in our review round-up below.

In a four-star review,The Guardian’s critic Peter Bradshaw described Riseborough’s portrayal as “remarkable” and “shapeshifting”, adding: “The film is ultimately just a little contrived and its final scene is not entirely plausible, but the drama is always fiercely watchable due to an undoubtedly marvellous performance from Andrea Riseborough.”

Empire’s reviewer, Iana Murray, gave the film three stars, writing: “Riseborough – no stranger to rich, chameleonic work in her career – does indeed deliver an outstanding and complex performance as a prickly alcoholic on the mend.

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“Testing the patience of her family while couch-surfing and smuggling beer cans, her Leslie oscillates between rage and devastation with the unpredictability of someone who can’t control themselves but so desperately wants to.”

Andrea Riseborough in ‘To Leslie’

She added: “As moving as it is, To Leslie feels somewhat derivative of an exhaustible list of tear-stricken addiction dramas that turn agony into a horrifying spectacle.”

Critic Matt Zoller Seitz, in his three-star review, noted that “the character of Leslie and Riseborough’s performance in the role are greater than the film that surrounds them”. While he concluded that the story is at times “predictable”, he commended Riseborough for her close-up silent acting in particular, which he compared to Robert De Niro’s in GoodFellas and Nicole Kidman’s in Birth.

Variety’s Owen Gleiberman was also impressed with Riseborough, calling her performance “nothing short of spectacular”.

He wrote: “She doesn’t compromise, she doesn’t hold back, but she doesn’t endow the character with any sort of fake flamboyance. In each scene, she shows you what Leslie looks like from the outside – the precise level of dissipation, of her sozzled ‘charm’ and flaunted, stunted anger – but she also cues you to what’s happening inside her: the woman the drinking covers up.”

To Leslie is currently available to rent and/or purchase on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, YouTube and Google Play.

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