Kristen Stewart is continuing on her crusade to try and distance herself from the Twilight series, and establish herself as a serious actress. Last year she did it with Adventureland, and this year, she had a couple more serious films at Sundance. In one, she plays Joan Jett, and in it has a lesbian love scene with Dakota Fanning. In the other, Welcome to the Rileys, she plays a 16 year old, runaway, making ends meet in New Orleans as a part-time exotic dancer, and part-prostitute. Okay, we get it Kristen, you’re a serious actress. Fortunately, she has some great company in Rileys that makes her look pretty good.
This film comes from director Jake Scott. Scott has done some TV stuff, but most notably, he’s directed music videos for Radiohead, Tori Amos, REM, and The Cranberries. The story is written by Ken Hixon, who hasn’t written anything since the 2002 De Niro film, City by the Sea. When summarized, the story sounds awfully cliched. James Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, a successful business owner who’s married to a literal shut-in played by Melissa Leo. She hasn’t left the house since her daughter died in a car wreck four years ago. In an attempt at a normal relationship, Doug starts sleeping with a diner waitress, who dies at the beginning of the movie.
During a business trip to New Orleans, Doug comes across Mallory (Stewart), who looks quite a bit like his deceased daughter, and clearly needs help. He moves in with her. He takes the energies formerly focused on his affair, and redirects it on her. This prompts the shut-in mother to drive down to the Big Easy, where she ends up moving in with the two, and they become a makeshift family, teaching each other to heal.
Yes, it’s about as cliched as you get. Fortunately, there are some fantastic parts of the film. Leo’s performance is outrageously good. Usually stuck in heavy-handed crime dramas (Homicide, Frozen River), she was free to showcase her perfect comedic timing. I’m not being overly superlative to say that she was the best part of the show.
Next comes Stewart, whom I love to hate. I’m not sure why. But this is the first film that I’ve seen her in where I felt like she wasn’t playing herself. She really made an impression and if this is the sort of stuff we can expect out of her, I’ll soon be a fan.
Then there was Gandolfini, who can’t do a southern accent to save his live. The script had fun making him a puritanical sort, which made his speech to Mallory about not using the f-word just SO hilarious since we all know him as Tony Soprano. Yes, the irony is that in-your-face. This is certainly standard Sundance fare, especially considering the ending, which is the same as several festival films this year. However, after a slow start, it picks up quite nicely. It’s definitely above average, and is both charmingly funny, and will tug at your heartstrings.
Plenty of authentic laughs and great supporting performances make Welcome to the Rileys a decent film.