Welcome To The Rileys is an indie drama dealing with broken people all leading broken lives in their own way. From director by Jake Scott ,who has made dozens of music video’s and the little remembered Plunkett and Macleane, will this film prove any more memorable?
Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo) are stricken by grief over the death of their 15-year-old daughter. As a result Doug seeks refuge in a mistress, until she dies of a heart attack; meanwhile Lois is agoraphobic and heavily reliant on prescription medication. While attending a conference in New Orleans, Doug encounters a damaged teen stripper Mallory (Kirsten Stewart) and seeing his daughter in her, tries to “save her”, resulting in altering the lives of all three characters in the process.
While perhaps not yet showing the cinematic style or epic style evident in his fathers (Ridley) or his uncles (Tony) work, Jake Scott has an eye for atmospheric detail, as shown in his almost documentary depiction of New Orleans street life, and he demonstrates a good capability of how to nurture actors. His New Orleans is stripped of filmic gloss, but still vibrant and alive. The same goes for all the actors, Melissa Leo is almost unrecognizable here and Stewart has little in common with her passive Twilight heroine.
But what stops this low key drama from feeling like an upmarket tv movie is the central casts committed performances. Stewart ups her indie street cred here after her humble beginnings in indies like Sean Penn’s Into the Wild and Greg Mottola’s underrated Adventureland. You can almost feel her relish at shedding her PG 13 twilight persona as she swears, drinks, tries to solicit sex and in general just acts deplorably. That’s not to say that she can’t bring a touching vulnerability and heft to her character, because she can, and does, in some of the films most memorable scenes. There’s a lot here to suggest that Stewart’s best work is ahead of her if she keeps up this brave choice in roles after the Twilight saga finishes. This is an actress who could be presumably be drowning in crappy romantic comedy scripts or offers to co star in limp Nicholas Spark melodramas so it’s to her credit that she often seeks out roles this raw and affecting.
Her relationship with Gandofini is affecting and well played. He is another actor who has done all he can to step outside of his most famous role (Iconic HBO Mafia boss Tony Soprano) and in doing so constantly reaffirms his talent as an actor. His huge bear like frame can often be intimidating (As in The Sopranos or True Romance) but here he play against his size, becoming more cuddly than scary. He brings an unexpected gentleness to his performance that is both touching and surprising given some of his other roles. Stewart’s Mallory finds his kindness and refusal to use her confusing as she’s only known how to relate with men if as some sort of transaction. She’s slow to open up and trust him, and his downplayed generosity allows her to eventually do so. Melissa Leo (on a roll after her Oscar Winning role in The Fighter) plays another mother here, but someone who is perhaps the most broken in a film full of broken people. Her complex relationship with Doug is one of the film’s big surprises and it’s a real treat to see such seasoned and talented actors bounce off each other here.
All in all, Welcome To The Rileys is well worth a look by anyone who’s a fan of naturalistic small dramas or of any of the three lead actors. It stays true to it’s story and it’s characters, which is sometimes rare but always worth watching.
The DVD Bonus feature Creating The Rileys is a cursory making of the film lasting under 20 minutes. Worth a watch if you liked the film, but nothing out of the ordinary here.
Welcome To The Rileys is out on DVD now – order it here