The Scott family is steeped in the film business, and Ridley Scott’s son Jake is the latest to expand further into feature film. An acclaimed music video director, “Welcome to the Rileys” is Scott’s sophomore film, with Tony (“Top Gun”) and Ridley (“Gladiator”) Scott in the producer’s chairs. Scott shows the potential to run with his father and uncle as this film shows great promise as a deep character study that is well-made.
With “Welcome to the Rileys” Scott brings forth an unexpected indie film that has a subdued tone but contains strong performances and story line with a memorable impact.
Scott introduces us to the Rileys and the story of a family with trauma in its past. Doug Riley, played by James Gandolfini, and his wife Lois Riley, played by Melissa Leo (“Everybody’s Fine”), seem to be the typical middle-aged couple in a quiet suburban neighborhood but there’s more to their story behind closed doors. The secret is that both are struggling with the loss of their daughter and aren’t attempting to put the pieces back together, but instead they wallow in bad habits and drift further apart. The Rileys are merely coexisting, and badly at that.
Riley is indulging in an affair with a waitress, while his wife is at home with a bad case of agoraphobia, even making the hair dresser visit their home due to her fear of leaving the house. Gandolfini is clearly best known for his heavy-breathing mobster role Tony Soprano, who re-invigorated the Italian mafia for a whole new generation of fascinated viewers. However this role, he brings to life a man who is the opposite of larger-than-life, and is quite broken. Mr. Riley is looking for answers and they come in the form of a teen stripper who has a bone to pick with life and could care less about Riley and his intentions.
Enter Kristen Stewart, in one of her two films to premiere at Sundance 2010, she expands her range playing a ‘runaway’ of a different sort in this film, where she is numb to life and is concerned only with how she will make her next dollar. Her appearance is startling, looking thinner than ever in the stripper garb and ill-fitting street clothes, even sporting some nasty looking sores on her face. She is unmistakably a stripper/prostitute, and “Twilight’s” Bella Swan will be buried deep in your memory with her gritty performance. Amazingly, Stewart’s character Mallory is the one who has the potential to pull it all together for the Rileys, even with her complacent disposition and her non-existent grasp on the bigger picture of life.
After encountering Mallory on a business trip to New Orleans, Riley is compelled to step into her life and try to repair some damage, forming an unusual but simultaneously an endearing relationship. There is no funny business between the two; Riley is sincerely working out all of the pain in his life through helping another, while Mrs. Riley is forced to work through her own issues due to her husband’s absence. Both Gandolfini and Leo convincingly perform the roles of parents who suffered the loss of a child, both together at one point, but what we see in the film is their last-ditch effort to recover any part of their former selves and salvage their relationship.
“Welcome to the Rileys” is compelling material, with characters who are living real deal situations, with no sugar-coating. There are no moments of glossiness or hallmark-coated dialogue and the story is one that unfortunately many people could relate to concerning broken relationships and the loss of a loved one. All of the performances are impressive, and the only distraction concerning Gandolfini’s performance is his intermittent Southern accent which would have been an improvement had it been entirely cut out. In the end, the film rises above the average, and hits home with touching moments and sincere characters who are reaching out to repair their fragile lives.