Welcome to the Rileys, directed by Jake Scott (HBO Voyeur Project) and starring James Gandolfini (The Taking of Pelham 123, The Sopranos), Melissa Leo (Everybody’s Fine) and Kristen Stewart (The Runaways, The Twilight Saga) is the story of a couple (Gandolfini and Leo) who’s marriage is all but over due to the tragic death of their teenage daughter, but find comfort and redemption with a teenage runaway (Stewart).
Tired of his depressing life and agoraphobic wife, “Doug Riley” (Gandolfini) decides to stay in New Orleans after a convention when he meets a 16-year old runaway stripper/prostitute, “Mallory” (Stewart). Mallory, who is mature beyond her years in some ways and still a child in others, isn’t willing to admit the comfort she desires from a real family. After seeing the warm heart of Doug, Mallory allows him to live with her (for $100 per week) in her run-down apartment in a poor area of New Orleans.
Doug and Mallory grow close in a father-daughter type-relationship, but Doug gives Mallory the space she needs to continue with her “career”. He finds the solace in living with Mallory that he lost when his daughter died.
Desperate to get her husband back, “Lois” (Leo) leaves her home for the first time in what appears to be years to drive to New Orleans and rekindle her dwindling marriage.
Upon meeting Mallory, Lois is at first distraught that Doug would use a 16-year old stripper to replace his own lost daughter. However, despite her inglorious career choice, foul mouth and poor living habits, Lois comes to care for Mallory, too. It’s only when Lois tries to truly “mother” Mallory that Mallory decides, in the most pivotal scene in the movie, that despite her age, she is not a child.
Mallory doesn’t stray from her usual habits, and runs from Doug and Lois. With her disappearance, Doug and Lois somehow find love in each other again and realize that no one can replace their daughter, though Mallory reminded them they still have the capacity to love.
All three actors are standouts in this film, each playing their role to the fullest, never taking away from the other. Gandolfini, best known as a New Jersey mob-boss in The Sopranos, easily loses that persona as he takes on the role of a sad, lost and gentle man looking for something to love. He’s both kind and stern, evoking sympathy and contempt from the audience.
Leo’s acting while still stuck in her home is wonderfully physical. She uses mannerisms and props to make a lonely, agoraphobic woman both sad and funny at the same time. While in New Orleans, you can feel her loss and her need to care for Mallory.
Stewart, who’s morphed into several different types of characters in the past year, garners strong sympathy from the audience as “Mallory”. Bruised, unkempt, poor and alone, she loses herself in the role and truly becomes a hardened teenager who’s lived too much for her 16 short years. Her character is magnetic, and you want her to both keep her edge and find familial love.
Welcome to the Rileys is an accomplishment in character study and storytelling. The plot, the characters – everything about the story is perfectly thought out and executed. Though the story itself isn’t pleasant, Welcome to the Rileys is a joy to watch. I hope to see more from Scott and writer Ken Hixon in the near future.
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