James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo play troubled souls in Jake Scott’s straightforward film. ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ is a competent indie drama that offers great performances and an intriguing premise – but still feels a bit too familiar. Several recent examples of films about grieving parents that include “The Lovely Bones,” “Creation,” “Antichrist,” “I’ve Loved You So Long” and the “Rabbit Hole” show that filmmakers find something compelling about telling a story that revolves around the agony of others.
“Welcome to the Rileys,” starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo as three storm-tossed souls, is like a quiet conversation about despair and hope. Ordinary people trying to deal with the kind of aching loss that’s settled deep in the bones.James Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, a middle-aged midwestern plumbing equipment wholesaler still grieving over the death of his teenage daughter six years earlier.
Sorrow suffuses “Welcome to the Rileys,” if somewhat uneasily. Directed by Jake Scott from a screenplay by Ken Hixon, the film turns on the unpredictable emotional storms that rock the neatly ordered world of Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo), a couple nearing 30 years of marriage. The Rileys live in an anonymous Indianapolis house with a tidy green lawn and the carefully preserved bedroom of their dead daughter. A pall hangs over their home, or more truly the film, which telegraphs its ideas — an absence of life, the absence of breath — a touch too loudly. In the years since their daughter’s death, Doug and Lois have become careful with their lives, Lois so locked down she’s unable to leave the house. After their own daughter is killed in a car crash, they try to adopt Stewart’s character as a surrogate replacement.
An unexpected business trip to New Orleans shake things up. Doug travels to the Crescent City, where he meets a foul-mouthed teenage prostitute (Kristen Stewart vamping away from twilight to dawn) in a strip club who reminds him of his daughter. They form a chaste, caring and highly unlikely relationship, and he decides to move in with her to change her life. Doug’s wife Lois (Melissa Leo), who hasn’t left the house since their daughter’s death, miraculously manages to get out and drive to New Orleans, where she too is transformed by a new access of motherhood.
Kristin Stewart, who was cast in the film before the “Twilight” tsunami hit, continues to gravitate to characters that the world has roughed up, with Mallory a few shades darker than the actress’ well-crafted young Joan Jett in “The Runaways” earlier this year. She just gets better at bringing a naked vulnerability to her performances. Here it’s like watching a slide show of anger, pain, innocence, outrage and mischief play across her face. Gandolfini, in his own way, has that same ability to wear his heart on his sleeve, and Doug’s discomfort when the barely clad Mallory tries to seduce him with a lap dance is priceless. There are no strains of Tony Soprano, no cocky arrogance, just a good guy trying to do the best he can. Their tentative father-daughter relationship unfolds in a down-market side of New Orleans, more ugly than anything else and as good a setting as any to figure out whether there is anything about these lives worth reclaiming.
“Welcome to the Rileys” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Crude language, prostitution and violence against women.
WELCOME TO THE RILEYS Directed by Jake Scott; written by Ken Hixon; director of photography, Christopher Soos; edited by Nicolas Gaster; music by Marc Streitenfeld; production design by Happy Massee; costumes by Kim Bowen; produced by Michael Costigan, Scott Bloom, Giovanni Agnelli, Ridley Scott and Tony Scott; released by Samuel Goldwyn Films. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
WITH: James Gandolfini (Doug Riley), Kristen Stewart (Mallory), Melissa Leo (Lois Riley), Joe Chrest (Jerry), Ally Sheedy (Harriet), Tiffany Coty (Tara) and Eisa Davis (Vivian).