A Melancholy 'Welcome' For A Teen In Need

James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart

Father Figure: On a business trip, Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) meets wayward teen Mallory (Kristen Stewart) and takes her under his wing, partly to fill the void his own daughter's death has left in his life. Skip Bolen/Patti Perret hide caption

itoggle caption Skip Bolen/Patti Perret

Welcome To The Rileys

  • Director: Jake Scott
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

Rated R for strong sexual content, brief drug use and pervasive language involving a teenager.

With: James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart

Proof positive that even the most shambling movie may be rescued by fine acting, Welcome to the Rileys is a defiantly cheery title for an achingly bleak story.

At first it seems impossible to contemplate spending more than five minutes with Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) and his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo). Frozen in the pain of losing their 15-year-old daughter eight years previously, the couple survives in a state of suspended animation. By day, Doug manages his plumbing business; one night a week, under cover of a regular poker game, he conducts a longstanding affair with an amiable pancake-house waitress (Eisa Davis). Lois, petrified by agoraphobia, skulks in their Indianapolis home along with their daughter's perfectly preserved bedroom.

Everything changes when Doug heads to New Orleans for a trade show and bumps up against Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a foul-mouthed stripper and occasional prostitute. A runaway of indeterminate years, Mallory lives in a crumbling rental with erratic utilities; when Doug proves uninterested in her sexual talents, she zeroes in on his sympathy and wallet. But Doug is experiencing a powerful dose of transference: He doesn't just want to help this creature, he wants to parent her.

As Doug repairs Mallory's plumbing, pays her parking fines and even cooks for her, Lois decides to overcome her disability and fetch her husband home. For a while, Ken Hixon's screenplay divides into parallel narratives as we follow Doug and Lois' separate but equally redemptive journeys, and it's here that the film gains traction and visual interest. Cinematographer Christopher Soos works best with stillness, his interior shots of the Rileys' gloomy home conveying a setting steeped in grief and, we later learn, guilt. A scene where Lois gets her hair done in the living room beautifully evokes the stasis of the woman, her marriage and her entire life.

Melissa Leo and James Gandolfini

Melissa Leo plays Lois Riley, who drags herself out of grief-induced isolation after Doug's growing focus on Mallory leaves Lois even more stranded than usual. Skip Bolen/Patti Perret/Samuel Goldwyn Films hide caption

itoggle caption Skip Bolen/Patti Perret/Samuel Goldwyn Films

A creaky, sometimes forced drama that burrows under your skin if you let it, Welcome to the Rileys lurches along like Lois' car as she tries to exit her garage for the first time in years. Uplifting only in the most glancing way, it allows its emotional complexities to accumulate slowly, one conversation and image at a time. In an especially lovely scene, Lois wanders across the moonlit lawn of a roadside motel, ethereal in her white nightdress, while the camera draws up and back as though in awe of her newfound bravery.

Using atmospheric French Quarter locations, director Jake Scott brings life to a slow-moving tale that leans precariously on its three stars. Leo is as magnificent as always, but it's Gandolfini, drifting in and out of a variety of accents, who glues the film together. Effortlessly projecting an emotional need that's never creepy, he gives Doug's growing connection with Mallory a touching authenticity. Lois may buy the girl underwear and treat her "female problems," but Doug changes her life.

As for Stewart, her nuanced and mature grasp of this broken character is impressive. But after pouting and brooding through the Twilight franchise, we can only hope her next project gives her some reason to smile.

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