Welcome To The Rileys: Mourning Breaks

One might assume that a film with the inviting title “Welcome to the Rileys” serves up the kooky antics of a dysfunctional family at a holiday gathering. Jake Scott’s (Ridley’s son) feature does anything but that, though there is indeed an ersatz nuclear unit at its core. Rather, the film follows the paths of three deeply wounded individuals as they struggle to cope with the pain and misfortune that have distorted their lives. Though a bit schematic in the interplay between the characters, “Welcome to the Rileys” has an uncommon wealth of concern for them, and as such, it is difficult not to share the sentiment. James Gandolfini as Doug Riley and Melissa Leo as his wife Lois are an Indianapolis couple rendered almost inert since their teenaged daughter’s death in a car accident eight years earlier. Though Doug, the owner of a wholesale plumbing parts business, manages to go through the motions each day, his wife has sequestered herself in their home. Painting, the occasional visit from her hairdresser, and an arsenal of medications serve as a support system; yet, she is unable to cross the lawn to retrieve items from the mailbox. Bereft of companionship, Doug has maintained a once a week fling with a waitress at the local pancake house, and scheduled to attend a convention in New Orleans, he suggests that she accompany him. Before he has a follow up opportunity to persuade her to go, she abruptly dies of a heart attack and Doug heads out-of-town alone and with an even heavier heart than usual. In The Big Easy, Doug seeks refuge from the general inanities of such industry gatherings by venturing into a strip club. There he makes the acquaintance of Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a young woman working the stage and the champagne room ploy, who solicits him to join her upstairs. Disinclined to take her up on the offer, but suddenly beset by the appearance of his cohorts in the joint, he winds up acquiescing to avoid detection by his peers. Misunderstanding marks this initial encounter, but later that night the two cross paths at a diner and manage a slightly more genuine discourse. Gradually, Doug’s dormant paternal sensibilities sweep him up in something of a reclamation project. He moves out of his hotel and into Mallory’s decrepit shack, and begins employing a variety of tough love tactics in an effort to help her straighten out her dire circumstances. He also informs his wife when they next speak, that he has opted to stay on in New Orleans indefinitely. This surprising declaration spurs Lois into action and she leaves the house for the first time in ages, headed toward Louisiana and a shockingly unexpected scenario. Gandolfini is perhaps a few more varied roles shy of emerging from the long shadow cast by Tony Soprano, but he is thoroughly impressive here as a man not quite resigned to the state of being broken. Though Leo bears the load of conveying the more dramatic expressions of their profound hurt, Gandolfini, in his very carriage and with the sporadic, slight softening of his features, leaves no uncertainty about Doug’s pronounced suffering. Lois, as portrayed by the versatile Leo, is a classic case of impacted emotions. She wears a perpetually pinched expression and her moments of opening up are accompanied by an almost palpable sense of trepidation. Stewart is convincingly petulant, antagonistic and suspicious as the foul-mouthed and slovenly young prostitute whom Doug, in a fashion, adopts. Her character’s tentative efforts to grasp the notion that caring and concern are actual possibilities are poignantly rendered by the actress. Blotchy and bruised, Stewart exudes the troubled demeanor of someone who’s spent the bulk of her life on the wrong side of the tracks and only faintly considers that there’s any way to cross over. Unfortunately, the direction often fails to successfully capture the moments of critical transition for these characters; consequently, their evolutions occasionally have a pat, erratic quality to them. The heartfelt performances of the three leads pick up the slack, yet there is a sensation of opportunities lost to get deeper into the psyches of these complicated figures. Though the city plays no overt role in the process, it is perhaps fitting that New Orleans serves as the locale for these fledging regenerations of spirit. “Welcome to the Rileys” doesn’t suggest that shaking off trouble and trauma are as simple as cleaning up your surroundings, but in the face of almost unfathomable hardships, it’s not the worst place to start. ★★★★☆ -- Alex Roberts


I don't know about you guys, but I can't wait to see this movie.

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