Filmmaker Hisako Matsui tells the story of a great woman behind a great man in her latest movie, Leonie. It is about Leonie Gilmour, the mother of Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The titular character is played by Emily Mortimer.
Leonie is the ideal vehicle for director Matsui’s agenda. The movie is a feminist celebration of the life of a major artist. Gilmour defied convention by having a child by expatriate Japanese poet Yone Noguchi (shido Nakamura) in early 20th century New York.
Then they move to Japan, which is more socially rigid. The script written by David Wiener and Matsui shows the racism of both cultures. They based the screenplay on a Noguchi biography written by Masayo Duus.
Leonie jumps from one episode of Gilmour’s life to another without really developing her persona. As a result, viewers only see small snapshots of her life that shows her as an intolerable snob. Matsui made Gilmour a deliverer of her message rather than something people can relate to.
Gilmour is a creature of flesh and blood and this is evident with her affair with Yone Noguchi. She also refuses to stay in America when he went back to Japan. She also wants what is best for her son. She recognizes he has the soul of an artist.
Yone meets Gilmour in New York in 1901. He is a struggling poet and she is a writer who responds to his ad for an editor. She edits his words to make it acceptable in the American market. The two collaborate on The American Diary of a Japanese Girl that is sold as a real-life memoir.
Mortimer plays the character well. She makes audiences feel that Gilmour is real even though there are times she is not really attracting viewers. The movie’s score is decent but the consistent strings make it feels like a forced match.