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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Andrea Riseborough gives a great performance in this low-budget indie American film, the debut of experienced television director Michael Morris. Riseborough plays an alcoholic single mother who once won a small-town lottery worth $190,000. An opening scene shows her in a news clip as a spirited young woman screaming with joy about her win. She cuddles her son, who’s about 12, and declares she’ll buy a house and a guitar for James, who wants to be “the next Waylon”, as in Jennings.
Six years later, Leslie is busted flat, unable to pay her rent in a flophouse motel in Texas. She hops the bus to her son in Los Angeles, but she can’t stay sober, so James – who’s 20 and hasn’t seen her since he was 14 – sends her back to Texas, to the people she hates most in the world. Allison Janney and Stephen Root are oddly but effectively cast as a rough biker couple, Nancy and Dutch, who took care of the son when Leslie abandoned him. When Leslie returns to her hometown, Nancy pours derision on her, making her feel even more worthless.
The first half of the movie is hard work. The bleak settings, the absolute pain of watching Leslie unravel becomes enervating, and Morris stretches it out. The film has a real-time rhythm and long takes that leave us nowhere to hide. It’s tough, watching her fall from one degradation to another. Morris does this so that the last act will bring the story home like a train, and so it does.
Riseborough’s performance is spectacular – a high-wire act, from despair to repair and everywhere in between. The cruelty of those around her is only matched by her rock-bottom self-esteem. She is quick to anger, slow to understand her own predicament, self-pitying and potty-mouthed. It’s a long way back and nobody believes she can make it. Until one night …