Welcome to the Rileys

10 Dec

Title: Welcome to the Rileys
Jake Scott
Ken Hixon
James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo
MPAA Rating:
R, strong sexual content, brief drug use and pervasive language involving a teenager
110 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Welcome to the Rileys was released over a month ago, and I was always curious to see it. I think Kristen Stewart is terrific outside the Twilight franchise, I always love seeing James Gandolfini in films, and Melissa Leo is one seriously great actress. So yes, I was looking forward to checking this one out, and I finally got my hands on it. The result wasn’t amazing, but this is still one very powerful little film. The script many times lacks in quality, but the performances are always on point, and Jake Scott, the son of Ridley Scott, shows a very delicate hand, which is exactly what this film needed from him.

The film is a very intimate affair, one about despair, finding hope and letting go of one’s demons. And when it’s at its best, with the actors just feeding off each other like crazy and getting us really engaged with their tough stories, it’s  a tense film to watch, and I mean that in the best of ways.

The film has Mr. Gandolfini and Ms. Leo as two parents, grieving the loss of their daughter. Their relationship on the verge of collapsing, their communication as partners having been rendered obsolete because of the guilt they both feel over their daughter’s death. Especially Lois, Ms. Leo’s character, who can’t find herself able to leave her home. Mr. Gandolfin’s character, Doug, on the other hand resolves to having an affair with a waitress, who eventually dies, and he’s then in New Orleans for business, and he eventually goes into a stripclub.

And in that stripclub he meets Ms. Stewart’s character, Mallory, an underage stripper with a tormented life of her own which we can assume from those sad and lonely eyes she has. He sees something of his daughter in her, and after turning down her proposition for a private dance he proposes something to her in turn: for her to let him live under her roof until he can get his life back in track, and he’ll pay her $100 per night. She obviously accepts, thinking it would be easy money, and he calls his wife to tell her he won’t be coming home in a while. And the relationship these two develop from there is pretty great to watch develop.

The grief of parents has many times made for some pretty compelling films, next week will see the premiere of Rabbit Hole, a film which looks seriously great and that tackles that same topic. It’s so compelling because it has to be one of the most horrible pains imaginable, and because the voyeur inside all of us loves to see how other people deal with this grief. But because it’s been a theme explored so much in films it has gotten to the point in which films have to tread that ground even more carefully now, because there are conventions and clichés that have developed in this sub-genre which must be avoided.

But the look Welcome to the Rileys provides into this horrible situation is quite good. The Riley household is shown as a lifeless place, there’s no apparent sound coming out of it, everything looks neatly in its right place, the room of their deceased daughter remains immaculately the same. And, as I said, there are times in which the script kind of makes this one stumble a bit, but the actors here are too good to let it fall down and they pick it right back up and give seriously good performances.

Ms. Stewart especially is terrific as Mallory. You look at the non-vampire stuff she’s done and you’ll find some pretty neat performances: Into the Wild, Adventureland, The Runaways. These are all great films and she’s very good in them, as she is here. She brings Mallory to life, going against Mr. Gandolfini in some great acting moments, and even though the script sometimes is weak, these two make the most out of the moments in which their characters aren’t actually speaking. His looks to her, like he was looking to a new daughter, one that he wanted to save from her chosen life but who was reluctant to his saving. And her looks to him, at times like an ungrateful and vulgar girl, and other times as a confused and vulnerable child. It’s just great acting to watch.

And then there’s Melissa Leo, who we know can be simply outstanding. Just look at her Oscar nominated performance in Frozen River to attest to this woman’s acting chops, and she looks as though she’s heading for another nomination for The Fighter, which was released today and I’m hoping to get to check out some time next week. Now, in here Ms. Leo’s good, she acts well as Lois, who eventually comes to New Orleans herself, and there are some scenes in which she plays off Ms. Stewart and Mr. Gandolfini seriously well. But I must confess I didn’t like the character, I thought Ms. Leo made the most of Lois, but I thought she was an obstacle at times, thought she kept me from watching more scenes with Ms. Stewart and Mr. Gandolfini, which were the ones I really liked.

Welcome to the Rileys is still a very good film. There are times in which you feel three’s a crowd like I just said above, there are others in which the script doesn’t do much for the story it tries to tell, trying too hard to accelarate things or force feed stuff to its characters. But when the movie just lets these actors be, it hits a beautiful stride, and then it’s very good to watch. And it serves as a good reminder that when Ms. Stewart stops playing Bella Swan we’ll be in for a great career, not to say she’s bad in the Twilight films, I actually thought the last one was quite okay, but she’s clearly able of much more.

Grade: B


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