Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Taking The Time To Live And Save A Life, Welcome To The Rileys Is Gritty, Complicated, And Good!

The Good: Acting, Interesting characters, Decent plot progression, Wonderful mood
The Bad: Somewhat predictable, Casting issue
The Basics: Two adults are haunted by loss and a young woman is plagued by poverty and failure in Welcome To The Rileys.

Every now and then, I get a hankering for a work by a specific performer. It happens surprisingly little; as a reviewer, I see so much stuff that I am reviewing and that I have in the docket to review that I seldom consider my own moods for what I am going to watch. But, tonight, I was in the mood for a new-to-me Kristen Stewart movie. I’m not sure why, but I was in a Kristen Stewart mood, so I picked up Welcome To The Rileys, a movie I knew absolutely nothing about before starting it.

Welcome To The Rileys is an independent film and it is easy to see the attraction for Kristen Stewart to the project. While she was deeply embedded in her performance in The Twilight Saga (reviewed here!) – where she played a character who was a paragon of innocence – she went off to play a call girl with an edge in Welcome To The Rileys. More than that, she nailed the role and it was a good chance for her to showcase a different side of her talents.

Opening in silence with a burning car, Doug loses about a thousand dollars at his weekly poker game, goes out for dinner (as he has for the last four years) and has a fling with the waitress, Vivian, before heading home to his wife. When Vivian dies before he can take her on a trip to New Orleans, the latest in a series of tragedies for Doug considering he and his wife, Lois, lost their daughter, Emily some eight years prior, Doug finds himself even more lonely than usual. Lois, paralyzed, by the death of their daughter, cannot leave the house.

When Doug goes on his trip to New Orleans, he leaves his business conference for a strip bar where he is solicited by Mallory. To avoid his coworkers, Doug gets a private room with Mallory, but when he starts asking her about how old she actually is, she bails. When they meet later outside the club, Doug and Mallory just begin talking and Doug finds himself empathizing with the young woman, who reminds him of his daughter. When Doug decides to remain in New Orleans to save Mallory, Lois has to work up her courage to leave the house to come recover him.

Welcome To The Rileys is an indie film and it immediately made me queasy for the whole “incest potential.” Indie films seem to skirt the borders of relationships that are intentionally inappropriate and while some can be edgy and unconventional, many go right for the gross. From almost their first meeting, Doug is clearly seeing his daughter in Mallory, so any relationship that evolved there had to stay non-sexual for me not to be entirely repulsed by the film. Fortunately, Welcome To The Rileys lived up to its potential like only God Bless America (reviewed here!) did of the indie films I have seen that skirt the inappropriate familial-type relationships of late.

Seeming initially like it will be wholly dark and disturbing, Welcome To The Rileys quickly overcomes its creep out potential to be an oddly uplifting story. While it maintains a wonderful, often awkward quality, it starts heading in a direction where characters are conflicted about how much they are living. In a delightfully uncomfortable scene, Lois meets a man who talks with her and there comes a moment where he is clearly waiting for her to ask him what he does and the film is just smart enough not to pay off the obvious.

Welcome To The Rileys might actually be Kristen Stewart’s best acting role, where she stretches her performance abilities in a direction viewers have not previously seen. She is cranky, but surprisingly vital in the role of Mallory. Stewart does not seem uncomfortable or stiff in the role of Mallory, either in the moments when she is forced to work the strip club or deliver lines that would probably have made Bella Swan’s head explode.

The phone call between Lois and Doug in New Orleans is one of the most uplifting moments I have seen in recent cinema and it reminded me why I love movies: when presented right, they can truly open one up to actual emotions. In that moment, Gandolfini and Melissa Leo (Lois) play off each other perfectly and there is enough to see the potential of what one expects the beginning of their relationship must have been like.

What should be the incredibly boring process of watching Doug parent Mallory is saved by Doug actually parenting the young lady is saved by the performance of James Gandolfini. Gandolfini and Stewart play off one another incredibly well. Stewart plays resistance to authority and parental guidance exceptionally well and Gandolfini manages to play the role of Doug without even the hint of wanting to seduce the girl, despite her accusations to the contrary.

Melissa Leo is similarly remarkable in the role of Lois. When Doug brings Lois a beer in the car, Leo lets the hint of a beautiful, vibrant smile that sells the underlying strength of her character even more than the character’s long drive does. Director Jake Scott does an excellent job of progressing the characters and getting incredible performances out of the main three. Scott’s biggest problem might be in the casting of the peripherals. Eisa Davis plays Vivian early in the film, but several other characters look a lot like her (including one of Malloy’s coworkers), which is distracting (and makes little sense why it doesn’t disturb Doug).

Welcome To The Rileys starts out with the potential to be disturbing and creepy, but it gets through its potential awkwardness very quickly to become a smart, edgy drama that is a compelling character study. Through a troubling initial set-up, three people learn to live again and it helps make Welcome To The Rileys one of the best movies and one of the most wonderful, welcome surprises in years.

For other works with James Gandolfini, check out my reviews of:
Where The Wild Things Are
The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3
In The Loop
All The King's Men (2006)


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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