Welcome to the Rileys
January 31, 2011
You have to give Kristen Stewart credit. She’s managed to parlay the phenomenal success of the Twilight series and using her newfound box office clout to get several independent films, like Adventureland (2009), The Runaways (2010) and Welcome to the Rileys (2010), not only made but actually seen. None of these films have been anywhere near the commercial successes of the Twilight films but so what? They’ve allowed Stewart to grow as an actress and given her the freedom to pick roles that interest her. Rileys sees her playing another emotionally damaged character and how her friendship with another emotionally-scarred person provides a kind of solace, or, at the very least, a glimmer of hope.
After the death of his teenage daughter, Doug Riley (Gandolfini) wanders through life without much purpose. He’s merely going through the motions. The relationship with his wife Lois (Leo) is also on autopilot and lacking any kind of meaningful intimacy – so much so that he’s having an affair on the side. They are both still haunted by the death of their child – something that you never get over. The tension that exists between them is conveyed well by James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo. Nothing is said explicitly but can be felt in their daily interactions.
On a business trip to New Orleans, Doug skips out on a schmoozefest with co-workers and takes refuge in a strip club where he meets Mallory (Stewart), a young stripper whom he unexpectedly finds himself confiding in. However, their relationship gets off to a rocky start when she assumes he’s a cop. He runs into her again at a nearby restaurant and they straighten things out. There’s something about her that reminds him of his teenage daughter and talking to Mallory fills the void created by the death of his child.
Welcome to the Rileys features a nice bit of casting against type for both Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart. Known for playing larger than life characters like Tony Soprano, he portrays Doug as a reserved guy from the suburbs, while she is known for playing shy, awkward types and Mallory is most definitely not that – she’s angry and curses like a sailor. Gandolfini and Stewart play well off each other. Their scenes together (of which there are many) have a wonderful energy as we see these two contrasting personalities from completely different worlds interact.
Unfortunately, Welcome to the Rileys falters for a brief spell in the scenes where we see Lois gradually get accustomed to leaving the house. Director Jake Scott (son of filmmaker Ridley Scott) plays these scenes for laughs and makes her look ridiculous when her fear of leaving the house is very real. It is a credit to Melissa Leo’s skill as an actress that she manages to rise above it with her dignity intact. Once Scott gets these fake moments of levity out of his system, the film rights itself. Welcome to the Rileys is ultimately about damaged people who find comfort in one another and eventually deal with what messed up their lives in the first place. This is a nicely understated slice of life drama driven by characters, which is a breath of fresh air from mainstream Hollywood studio films that have largely abandoned this type of film.
The only extra on this DVD is “Creating the Rileys,” which takes a look at the making of the film, from Jake Scott’s pitch to the finished product. Screenwriter Ken Hixon talks about the inspiration for the story while the actors talk about their characters and then the producers praise them in typical featurette fashion.