BSC: 'Welcome to the Rileys' With Kristen Stewart Review


Welcome to the Rileys is the only special screening I tried to get into at New Orleans Film Fest but could not, due to how quickly it sold out (that fact made me take no chances with 127 Hours and The Black Swan).

My primary interests in the film were that it was set mostly in New Orleans, and all of us here love to see how our city is shown on the big screen, and that director Jake Scott is the son of Ridley Scott.

As with David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer, I was curious to see what someone from that kind of family background would do with a debut film. After hearing all the positive chatter about this movie at other showings around the festival, I made a point to see the movie before it left theaters around here (I think it is still lingering in a few theaters elsewhere, if you haven’t seen it and want to). 

It’s a film with essentially three cast members: James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo (who has been seen most recently on HBO’s Treme), and Kristen Stewart; all the other faces are basically pieces of staging. Gandolfini plays a businessman attending a conference in New Orleans, away from his neurotic wife (Leo) who has not left their house since the tragic death of their daughter. He encounters a young runaway working as a stripper (Stewart) and takes her under his wing. His decision to stay in New Orleans prompts his wife to finally overcome her agoraphobia and come after him, only to be drawn into the strange relationship with “Mallory,” herself. 

Storywise, the film is fairly predictable. I would not go so far as to call it cliché, but once it got onto the main plot highway, there weren’t really any twists. But that was fine, because it was a movie about characters and emotions, not events. I thought all of the three did an excellent job. Gandolfini projected the sense of unreality and almost comic disbelief at this surreal situation wonderfully, and the moments that showed his darker, deeper emotions—the pure grief, the exhaustion—were touching. 

I particularly enjoyed Leo’s performance as the fragile, vulnerable, yearning mother after seeing her hard-edged efficiency on Treme. I know I would have enjoyed her performance here on its own, but against the other it seems downright brilliant. Stewart was the best I have ever seen her, hands down. I think I’d have been slightly more impressed if I hadn’t seen her use the same stutter-method in Twilight, but at least Jake Scott answers for me one of the questions I’ve had about her as an actress since that first atrocity in the “saga”: what can she do with a competent director helping her characterize? She played surly, frightened, helpless-yet-determined-to-fight-it with aplomb. 

The directing was seamless, but this was not really a movie that focused on the director. I will point out that drawing high-caliber performances with nuance and power from three people is a big statement from a first-time director about his abilities to connect his cast to his vision. The subject matter is dark (not appropriate for younger Stewart fans; this movie is rated R for a reason)–as I mentioned above, she is a stripper, and several of the events of the story underscore the darkness of that world. 

In a way it becomes a fish-out-of-water story for both Gandolfini, entering her world of the night, and her, having someone around who is actually looking out for her. My one complaint about this movie, and it is an aesthetic complaint and many people would probably disagree with me here, is that it didn’t go full bleak at the end. There is an epilogue, of sorts, that for me that removed any emotional or projecting-myself-into-that-situation impact the story would otherwise have had. 

I think it would have been a weightier film if we were left wondering, because that would have put us in the same place as the Rileys are, wondering. But if the intent was a redemption story, it works as a realistic one (the ending is still not fairy-tale, just not full bleak), and it’s just my personal taste that would have preferred the other. 

Bottom line on this is that it’s a thoughtful, emotional movie.Definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of any of the three, or Ridley or Tony Scott, or indie movies in general, even if it’s not a mind-blower. I’m certainly curious to see what Jake Scott does next, and this was beyond competent for a first effort.

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