Judge Clark Douglas is living the life of Riley.
Our review of Welcome To The Rileys, published February 7th, 2011, is also available.
Three lost souls seeking hope and forgiveness.
"Hold on, just listen to me."
Facts of the Case
Doug (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo, Frozen River) have been married for 30 years. Their relationship has been a very complicated one in recent years, as the couple has been attempting to come to terms with the death of their 15-year-old daughter. Lois has retreated into silence and agoraphobia, while Doug takes comfort in his weekly routines. These routines include poker games with friends, eating waffles at a local restaurant and paying visits to a mistress named Vivian (Eisa Davis, The Wire). When Vivian suddenly passes away, Doug must secretly add a new layer to his grief.
Eager to get away from home for a while, Doug goes on a business trip to New Orleans. It's there that he encounters Mallory (Kristen Stewart, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), a foul-mouthed 16-year-old stripper and prostitute. Though Mallory continually propositions Doug upon their first few meetings, he sternly resists yet continues to meet with her. It's clear that he feels some measure of fatherly affection for her and wants to do what he can to help her out. Doug informs Lois that he's going to stay in New Orleans for the foreseeable future, takes up residence with Mallory and makes an attempt to help this broken young girl turn her life around. Meanwhile, Lois determines that she's ready to come out of hiding and take a trip down to New Orleans to visit her husband.
Without a doubt, Welcome to the Rileys is a predictable, clichéd film in a wide variety of ways. We feel like we've seen these characters before and we're pretty certain that we've seen this story before. The film's journey offers few surprises and the destination offers none. Despite this, I found Welcome to the Rileys a moving and absorbing experience. It may be a flawed film, but part of the reason the characters feel so familiar is that they often feel so real. This is an example of a mediocre screenplay elevated into a good film thanks to the efforts of the actors involved.
Casting James Gandolfini in the central role is an intriguing choice, as the film's early scenes seem to draw on elements from other characters the actor has played. We see him gambling with his pals, we see him sleeping with a woman other than his wife, we see him frequenting a sleazy strip club in New Orleans, and we recall the behavior of Tony Soprano (and maybe Nick Murder from Romance and Cigarettes). However, this character is not another Gandolfini essay of a self-serving man with childish impulses, but rather a fundamentally decent person simply trying to remind himself that he's alive. His home life seems at times to be a living tomb; he spends an alarming amount of time sitting in the darkness with only his cigarettes and his grief as company.
After we see Doug interacting with Mallory, we see him for who he really is: a no-nonsense working man with a penchant for fixing broken things. He starts with Mallory's appliances and then proceeds to work on her life. Doug is the sort of fellow who extols the virtues of personal responsibility and threatens to fine Mallory a dollar every time she uses the f-word around him. Doug is in his comfort zone as a father figure; a role which draws out his natural blend of warmth and unflappable principles. Gandolfini has a very distinctive screen presence but I've never seen a performance from him quite like this; his slow and steady speech patterns so perfectly capture the kind of man that Doug is.
I would mention what a pleasant surprise it is to see how good Kristen Stewart is in a role that actually challenges her, but then I've already seen her in The Runaways. Instead, I'll simply say that this is a film which further confirms how good she can be when the role requires her to be. She's impressively raw in her earlier scenes as the unapologetically slutty, vulgar runaway stripper, but what really impress are her moments of conflicted emotion later in the film. Stewart excels during those moments in which Mallory struggles to choose between her buried desire for safety and her fiercely independent streak. She plays very well off of her fellow cast members, particularly Gandolfini.
Melissa Leo arguably has the most challenging role of the film, but she's more than up to the task. Leo is sublime as a woman finally allowing herself to live again; essaying a tough role with humor and tenderness. Her best scenes come midway through the film, as she begins to work up the courage to walk out of the house, go into the garage, get in the car and drive out into the street.
The film was directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley and nephew of Tony. His background is in music videos and his previous feature film, 1999's Plunkett and Maclean, was a hyperactive endeavor which reflected those sensibilities. In a surprising turn of events, I dare say that Welcome to the Rileys is the most subdued effort directed by any member of the Scott family to date. It quietly and lovingly gives the characters time to breathe; the inevitable plot perhaps seems less grating because it moves forward at such a languid pace. To see these people and consider who they are is fascinating; to consider what their story is much less so.
Welcomes to the Rileys arrives on Blu-ray sporting a very solid 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. Much of the film is dark and takes place in the shadows, which makes the transfer's impressive depth a considerable asset (some critics who reviewed the film in the theatre found the experience a bit too murky). The level of detail is impressive, particularly facial detail. The film doesn't offer many astounding visuals, but its portrait of New Orleans is an impressive one that offers a nice sense of atmosphere. The audio is subdued, with a gentle score by Marc Streitenfeld relying largely on a fragile 6-note motif and the nuanced sound design rarely rearing its head to draw attention. This isn't the sort of track one would use to show off their sound system, but it's quite good. In terms of supplements, all this disc has to offer is a making-of featurette called "Creating the Rileys."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I've already touched on most of this film's problems, but there's one other item I'd like to note. For a movie that places so much emphasis on realism, it offers far too many cutesy moments of coincidence. It's one thing for a relationship to reach an important point between Doug and Mallory and another for Doug and Lois' marriage to begin to heal, but the contrived manner in which these threads are weaved together can be a bit grating.
I've had to use this description for entirely too many films, but it applies once again here: Welcome to the Rileys is a so-so movie elevated considerably by some very fine performances. As such, it's worth a look.
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