Starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo
Directed by Jake Scott, written by Ken Hixon
IMDB Rating: 7.0
This is a film which, in my eyes, is a cut above most small-time independent films I’ve seen. Welcome to the Rileys, a story about a couples attempt to replace their dead daughter with a runaway lap dancer, seemingly ticks all the boxes.
Doug (Gandolfini) and Lois (Leo) Riley are married for 30 years, but are coming undone as individuals and as a couple after the death of their 15 year old daughter in a car crash. Lois is now mentally unable to leave the house, and Doug has been having an affair for a long time. On a business trip to New Orleans Doug ends up in a strip club, which is where he meets dancer Mallory (Stewart). After an initial falling out, they meet later outside the club and Doug feels the need to look after her. He discovers that her real name is Allison, and she’s a 16 year old runaway from Florida living in a crappy downtown apartment. Still reeling from the loss of his own daughter, Doug takes Allison under his wing and tries to get her back on track.
The thing that impressed me with the story was how it developed as the film went. I don’t want to give anything away, but the way it unfolded felt less predictable and rigid than some of the other small-time, independent films that I have seen recently. The way it unfolded felt natural, like it was happening for the characters there and then and not like the end point had already been decided for them by writers. I do have problems believing that Doug would feel like he could give everything up, including his 30 year marriage, just to have a father-daughter relationship with a hooker from a club nowhere near where he lives. However, I wouldn’t want to know how losing a child affects you, and it’s clear he has problems with his life, but I just think someone like him would have too many commitments to be able to just say ‘y’know what? I’m going to be this girls dad now’. The thing I think that wins me over in this film, though, is that relationship that forms between Doug and Allison. They are two very interesting characters that open up around each other and you slowly start to see new dimensions in them as the film goes. It’s also fun to see Allison’s transition from being a wild, unrestrained 16 year old dancer to a 16 year old living with her ‘parents’ and having to behave.
There’s a hat-trick of good performances in Welcome to the Rileys! I must say that I haven’t seen much of James Gandolfini before this film, but I am thoroughly impressed with him in this film. One major thing that impressed me with him was the emotion he showed, something that is super rare among male actors these days. He even cried once! I mean, I don’t remember the last time I saw a film where a male actor cried. Maybe I’m just not watching the right films? Also, Kristen Stewart is very believable as the hardened 16 year old runaway-turned-daughter. Again, like Gandolfini there’s a range of emotions that have to be played out over the course of the film which she does very effectively. Also, I don’t know why but I can imagine her being like Allison in real life, which I guess means she’s acting it really well! The tremendous trio, if you will, is completed by a solid performance by Melissa Leo as Lois Riley. Again, there’s a lot going on behind her eyes as the restrained, awkward wife, and it’s brought out by her effective body language and also by the camera work of Jake Scott.
The directing in this film by Jake Scott is really good! You can see that he has taken care with all of his shots. Many of them are very picturesque and symbolic, keeping you thinking without having to keep the camera moving like a lot of directors I’ve seen recently.
All in all this is a really well produced, well acted movie that keeps you engaged with a fluid story and deep characters. I’m honestly surprised that I never heard of this film, and that this hasn’t been more successful with the general public. If you are a fan of small budget films, such as the recently reviewed Short Term 12, then you will love this movie!