By far the biggest shocker among this week's Oscar nominations is the inclusion of Andrea Riseborough in the uber-competitive category of Best Actress. Few people had even heard of her movie, "To Leslie," which eked out a disastrous $27,000 when first released in theaters last fall.
Now film addicts everywhere are rushing to stream "To Leslie" on demand to catch up with Riseborough, 41, and see what all the fuss is about. You should, too. Prepare to be wowed by her tour de force as an alcoholic single mother from West Texas who squanders her $190,000 lottery win on booze and broken men.
She deserves all the praise she's getting.
The big question is: how did this gifted British stage, screen and TV actress, who's played everything from Shakespeare and Strindberg to Matilda's neglectful mom in "Matilda the Musical," find her way to Hollywood's big night when her film had been left for dead?
Answer: you've got to have friends, especially A-list actors who refuse to let a great performance die. The starry likes of Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amy Adams, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton and Jennifer Aniston started spreading the word, some even hosting screenings.
Riseborough's fellow Best Actress nominee Cate Blanchett raved: "It's one of the best overlooked pieces of acting."
Well, no one is putting this baby in a corner now. Riseborough's portrayal of addiction is unmatched since Nicholas Cage won an Oscar for "Leaving Las Vegas."
After news footage of a manic Leslie hitting the lotto jackpot and telling reporters, she just wants to "maybe buy a house, get something nice for my boy. . . just have a better life," the film jumps ahead six years to show Leslie alone, blackout drunk, and getting evicted from her latest dump.
She reaches out to her estranged son, James, now pushing 20, and plays with a beautiful blend of tough and tender by Owen Teague. But when mom stars drinking, bar-hopping and stealing money from his friends, James lashes out, refusing even her request to visit a zoo.
"How'd you like it if people stood around watchin' you suffer?" he asks. To which Leslie answers, "They do!"
She's not wrong. Drowning her heartache to the jukebox sounds of Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson asking, "Look down the bar from you/At the faces that you see/Are you sure this is where you want to be."
Leslie hits rock bottom.
Leslie's humiliation intensifies when she returns—her girly-pink suitcase in tow— to her hometown where even her former biker friends, Dutch (Stephen Root) and Nancy (the reliably fantastic Allison Janney), harshly throw her past in her face.
Working from a sharply observant script by Ryan Binaco, who loosely based the film on his own mother, first-time feature director Michael Morris ("Better Call Saul") deftly avoids the traps of junkie cinema by keeping us off-balance about just where his movie is going.
The most crucial destination for Leslie is a shabby motel run by Sweeney, superbly played by writer-comic-musician-podcaster Marc Maron. It's Sweeney who sets Leslie on a thorny road to recovery by offering her the scut job of cleaning rooms. She wants to run. Who wouldn't?
Instead the raw and riveting teamwork of Riseborough and Maron develops a left field kind of love that lifts the film out of the doldrums and into the realm of possibility you and surely Leslie herself would never have thought possible.
Even when "To Leslie" starts jerking tears, it never does so to paint rainbows or tie up hard lives with a tidy bow. So here's to Leslie and to Riseborough for bringing her to life in a demonstration of highWire acting perfection without an ounce of Hollywood hooey in it.
Whether or not Riseborough pulls off a longshot victory at the Oscars, she's created a portrayal that plays like a classic country song you can't get out of your head and heart.
In a movie rescued from oblivion, Riseborough is unmissable and unforgettable.