3 out of 5 STARS
SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL:
"Welcome to the Rileys" is not a tremendously complicated movie, but it is somewhat elegant in its construction.
Its characters, their backgrounds, and their actions fit together like two components of a model whose pieces have been precisely manufactured to have complementary shapes, which in a certain way is what they are. Still, the filmmakers do a good enough job of disguising some of the seams, keeping it from looking too prefabricated.
It's been a few years since the Rileys' daughter Emily died, and neither of them are really in good shape. Lois (Melissa Leo) has become acutely agoraphobic, never leaving the house; Doug (James Gandolfini) has settled on a different routine, one centered around a Thursday night poker game, followed by waffles at an all-night diner, followed by a tryst with waitress Vivian (Eisa Davis). This time, he mentions to her that he's got a business trip to New Orleans soon; would she like to come? Once there, though, someone else catches his eye: Mallory (Kristen Stewart), an runaway teen stripper who stirs his paternal instincts. When he sells his business to stay down there after the convention, Lois realizes that this may be it unless she does something.
What writer Ken Hixon is going for here is pretty obvious - these people have gaps in their lives that the others can fill, although the Rileys are soon going to realize that Mallory isn't Emily. It's constructed fairly well, though. The trigger for Lois's agoraphobia is very basic, but Hixon and director Jake Scott let the audience make the connection rather than force it.
Doug has a gratifyingly similar reaction to the audience upon seeing a pre-purchased cemetery plot. Scott and Hixon deftly avoid pointing out that Mallory allowing Doug to pay for the privilege of looking out for her is not far off from the stripping and prostitution that she regularly engages in, which would likely make the movie creepier than intended, but the idea is there to chew on if the viewer wants to.
For all that the larger structure of the movie is well-formed, with fitting parallels and metaphors, it occasionally hits some rather strange notes. Lois's attempts to leave the house are played as broad slapstick, sharply undercutting the desperation she must be feeling and making a character we need to respect look foolish besides. Similarly, Doug's first encounters with Mallory seem rather forced; a strip club seems and odd place to be writing in a notebook, seemingly annoyed by the disrobing young women trying to get his attention. It indicates something odd in Doug's head that bears investigation that doesn't happen. On the other end, there's something a bit off-putting about how, as the film goes on, Mallory is treated less as an individual with her own problems and strengths and more as a catalyst for the Rileys to deal with their issues.
The cast does well enough in their roles, although this movie isn't likely to be a career highlight for any of them. Gandolfini gives Doug the feel of someone who has attained a fair amount of success by hard work but has retained a certain amount of blue-collar openness. He's generally warm, but there's also a bitter, demanding side that can come out. Leo (with make-up and hairdo that makes me wonder if the producers originally wanted to cast Helen Mirren) does well in not over-emphasizing Lois's phobias in the first half, but letting her seem normal in her home territory. She's good enough that the forced comedy and surprising functionality in the outside world after five or six years in her house seem believable. Kristen Stewart also turns in decent work as Mallory; even as she gets pushed from lead to supporting character over the course of the movie, she keeps the girl an consistent but changing individual.
Between them, the cast and crew make a tidy-though-enjoyable drama which uses its New Orleans setting well without making it a NOLA-specific story. It's got decent performances, although I suspect that the actors could have delivered even more had the movie left some of its fits a little less perfect and polished its rough patches a little more.
Source / via: WTTR Saturday