Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Bonus video review: "Welcome to the Rileys"
A cursory plot summary of "Welcome to the Rileys" -- middle-aged Indianapolis couple tries to turn around a teen stripper in New Orleans -- doesn't do justice to this understated character study. A little gem of a film, "Rileys" boasts a trifecta of solid performances from James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo.
The story sounds ridiculous -- hokey, even. But all three actors inhabit their roles with such an unstudied validity that we don't for a moment think of them as movie characters behaving for the camera.
Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, a plumbing wholesaler in his early 50s who's just going through the motions. He and his wife Lois (Leo) lost their teen daughter in a car crash nearly a decade ago, and have essentially placed their lives on hold since.
I loved all the subtle little details Gandolfini puts into Doug -- the way he unconsciously hikes up his belt over his ample belly, or braces a hand on the roof of his car when climbing in or out. A guy whose indulgences run to poker on Thursdays and late-night waffle runs, Doug isn't the sort to engage in a lot of introspection.
(If I had to pick a nit, I'd point out that the light syrup of twang Gandolfini drizzles over his accent is more Tennessee than Hoosier.)
If Doug has fault lines on the inside, then Lois' are easier to see. She has not even left the house in the ensuing years since her child's death -- when Doug goes away on rare business trips, a neighbor brings their newspaper in from the curb. Her daughter's room remains made up as tidily as Lois keeps her blonde hairdo.
In New Orleans for a convention, Doug ducks into a strip joint to escape the monotony of cocktails and glad-handing, and there he runs into Mallory (Stewart) -- which may or may not be her real name. Mallory says she's 22, looks a lot younger, and tries to trick Doug into buying a trick.
Before long Doug is crashing at her run-down house, and calling Lois to tell her may not be back anytime soon. Without ever being able to put his feelings into words, it's clear that Doug sees Mallory as a stand-in for the daughter he lost.
He starts fixing up her grubby home, in unspoken hopes that it'll help her clean up her life, too. Then Lois, who knows that her hermetically sealed grief has pushed her husband away, makes a bold move of her own.
I'm personally of the opinion that those "Twilight" movies have been a net burden to Stewart's career. Watching her textured work here, in which she shows us Mallory's carefully constructed walls of defensiveness, it's hard to imagine this is the same actress moping around with vampires.
They also do a good job of giving Stewart a skeezy look, with dark-rimmed eyes and flesh that seems perpetually bruised.
Director Jake Scott, working from an original script by Ken Hixon, doesn't aim for any big theatrical moments or dramaturgical contortions. Rather, the filmmakers and actors carefully construct a tidy little world that feels authentic and true.
3.5 stars out of four