|A scene from Leslie, My Name is Evil, opening Friday in Toronto.
Tragedy + Time = Comedy. That formula helps explain (sort of) how Charles Manson and his followers are at the centre of the darkly satirical Leslie, My Name Is Evil.
Leslie, My Name Is Evil positions itself as a fable about America in the ’60s. With broad strokes, the movie suggests the era’s social tug of war between the staid old post-war mentality and all those revolutionary new ideas. We meet Perry (Gregory Smith), a ‘good’ boy from a ‘good’ family and a massive nerd. His girlfriend Dorothy (Kristin Adams) is an icy blonde who wants to talk about Jesus. Perry and Dorothy talk about abstinence and marriage. Perry’s dad (Peter Keleghan) want him to serve his country in Vietnam. Perry’s world is about as conservative as it gets. In the background to all this clean-cut behavior are snippets of archival footage of Vietnam, student demonstrations, a monk setting himself on fire in protest, and the like. The ’60s are on.
Now meet Leslie (Kristen Hager).
Leslie is a high school student and a cheerleader type, but it seems she’s been hanging with the wrong crowd. What changed her world? Her parents’ divorce. Her abortion. The assassination of President Kennedy. Whatever.
Through her boyfriend she meets Charles Manson (Ryan Robbins), who just happens to be hanging from a cross that day. She falls in with Manson and his family, eventually becoming part of the La Bianca murders, the second night (after the Tate killings) of the carnage. Leslie is, obviously, based on Leslie Van Houten, one of the convicted Manson followers. In real life, it took three trials to convict Van Houten, and she is probably the only person involved in the horrific murders who has attracted any sympathetic interest over the years.
Perry and Leslie cross paths when he’s chosen to be a juror at her trial. Dorothy is furious, because the jury will be sequestered and Perry will have to put off their wedding as a result.
Leslie flirts with Perry. Perry is attracted to Leslie, which causes him to begin to doubt all the things he believes in. Everyone expects him to find her guilty, but Perry’s not so sure about anything any more.
You don’t need to know all about Charles Manson and his followers to be engaged by Leslie, My Name Is Evil — but it helps, simply because that entire crime episode has a notoriety that’s bigger than the events themselves. Leslie, My Name Is Evil seems to be using the case to suggest a pivotal moment in American consciousness, but just what writer/director Reg Harkema is going for here remains elusive. The movie is an often humorous mix of fact and fantasy. It sets the murders committed by Manson’s followers against the larger massacre of Vietnam, which is bound to infuriate a lot of people, though it’s hardly controversial. We got the impression from this film that Harkema is making fun of everybody, and for good reason.
Leslie, My Name Is Evil is edgy and weird (in a good way) to look at and it has a very cool soundtrack. The performances are suitably bizarre. What it all means is something you can go away and argue about afterward.
(This film is rated 18A)
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