Title: Welcome to the Rileys
Directed By: Jake Scott
Starring: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1), Melissa Leo
It’s often difficult for people to venture into territories unknown for them. But if they try hard enough, they’ll surprise themselves and those who know them, and come out having accomplished something they never thought they could. This is certainly the case for the characters, the actors and the director of the new independent film ‘Welcome to the Rileys.’
The movie, which debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, follows Doug Riley (played by James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (portrayed by Melissa Leo) as they continue to try to deal with the death of their 15-year-old daughter Emily eight years after she died. After Vivian (played by Eisa Davis), a waitress Doug was having an affair with to cope with Emily’s death, dies suddenly of a heart attack, he travels to New Orleans on a business trip. He decides to stay there even after his convention is over, as he’s stricken a relationship with a 16-year-old runaway stripper, Mallory (portrayed by Kristen Stewart), who reminds him of Emily.
‘Welcome to the Rileys’ starts off to a slow start, as it just shows Doug and Lois struggling to keep their nearly 30-year marriage afloat, despite the pain they are both feeling. Nothing is revealed about what caused the strain on the relationship, and viewers are left questioning why they should care about these two characters. It isn’t until Doug travels to New Orleans, and he and Lois are separated, that the film’s momentum picks up, and viewers get to see who they really are. Both Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly show how hurt their respective characters were when they were several states apart.
Director Jake Scott, who is the son of famed director and producer of Ridley Scott and the nephew of director Tony Scott, proved he is just as good as his family members in the movie business by casting Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart. While Gandolfini and Leo both were able to portray grief-stricken parents, unable to deal with letting the memory of their daughter go, Stewart proves that she’s at her best in smaller, independent movies. Much like her other independent drama released this year, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief,’ Stewart proves she can truly develop a role that isn’t based on a popular book character, like Bella from ‘The Twilight Saga,’ and expectations to play her a certain way. She made Mallory relatable by showing her pain of being out on her own, struggling to survive.
While ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ was focused on the relationships between Doug and Lois and Doug and Mallory and on their character development, Gandolfini and Stewart’s chemistry was what really drove the story. Gandolfini was able to completely transform Doug’s character throughout the 110-minute film, proving he could truly care about another person again, instead of just wallowing in his own misery. Meanwhile, Stewart initially portrayed Mallory as needing to sleep with men to validate her self-worth, but after developing a relationship with Doug, she realized there are other ways she can get people to like her.
The only downfall of the movie was that Doug and Lois never really seemed to get truly comfortable with each other. While Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly connect to their characters, they never truly seemed to connect with each other. Since their marriage is the only other main relationship in the story, besides Doug and Mallory’s, it seemed logical that their deposition towards each other would improve after they learned to deal with their grief, but it seemed to stay the same.
‘Welcome to the Rileys’ has a great script from screenwriter Ken Hixon, and will surely push Scott to the forefront of the movie directing world. Known mostly for directing music videos, Scott was able to prove with his second movie that he knows how to create and build characters and their relationships with others. He also proved that he knows how to pick the right cast, as both Ganolfini and Stewart perfected roles that are out of their comfort zones. Though only scheduled for a limited theatrical release, ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ will surely surprise and please many people who see it.
Written by: Karen Benardello