Sunday, 20 November 2011

'Welcome to the Rileys' Review

'Welcome to the Rileys' (dir: Jake Scott, 2010/2011) Cert: 15

It's taken well over a year to reach British shores but Jake Scott's (son of Ridley, nephew of Tony) Sundance-stealing drama 'Welcome to the Rileys' is finally here. The film stars Kristen Stewart and is rather stupidly released on the same day as 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1'. This low-key suburban piece was never going to smash the multiplexes but now it stands absolutely no chance at finding a steady audience and this is a terribly sad thing. If you are lucky enough to have a cinema near you showing it, book an afternoon off for a double dose of K-Stew; trust me, it'll be worth your while.

 Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois' (Melissa Leo) marriage is on the brink of destruction - after the tragic death of their daughter, Lois refuses to leave the house and lives a solitary existence. When Doug has to head for New Orleans as part of a business convention, he happens to meet Mallory (Stewart); a 16 year-old stripper with a foul vocabulary and personal demons she is trying to battle alone. The pair instantly share a connection and understanding which soon leads Doug to become the authoritative father figure in her infectious life but it will be a tremendous struggle to change Mallory's ways.

 Perhaps the greatest thing about Scott's drama is that underneath it's sleaze and character torment, this is a generally lovely film about people who actually care for one another. From the trailers and promotion, you wouldn't be foolish to think Doug is partaking in an adulterous and unethical relationship with Mallory but this is completely not the case. Unlike his 'Sopranos' alter-ego, Gandolfini is almost bear-like here; he is a heart-warming, gentle presence who does not swear or shout or stamp on people's heads, he is just a lost soul and finds comfort in helping a girl who he can see his daughter's rebellious side within.

 This is Indie cinema at it's best - stripped back (excuse the pun), toned down and taken one step at a time. 'Welcome to the Rileys' is a simple and effective character portrait which leaves any major stereotypes or trends of the now supremely tainted genre at the dirty, graffiti-smothered door. Throughout it's 110 minute running time, the audience learn such a great deal about the three characters and about how they each have their own issues and find different ways to cope - we aren't subjected to mountains of unnecessary kooky dialogue or a whimsical soundtrack, instead we are involved in a slight and silent drama that is utter aware of itself. There is nothing within that pulls a viewer from out of the dingy environment we find Doug and Mallory in. 

Still from 'Welcome to the Rileys' (dir: Jake Scott, 2010/2011)
 Ken Dixon's screenplay is often poignant and moving making everything seem utterly humane and emotionally focused. There is a beautiful scene in which Doug buys Mallory a bed and helps her make it. During the scene, he asks her if she can actually make one. Stewart's reaction is simply perfect; she blends angst and fear of being alone again in a matter of seconds - like someone saying "I hate you" before realising that was hurtful and that they didn't mean it. The dialogue between the pair is often amusing too, particularly during scenes when Doug threatens to dock her money every time she utters an expletive. 

 'Welcome to the Rileys' demands a lot from it's three performers and they certainly were up to the task. Gandolfini shines in this touching and sensitive area; Doug isn't able to be what everyone expects of him but he is a good man, and although he is not entirely honest, he makes up for it with his nurturing qualities. Low-key, stark and genuine, this is Gandolfini at his best. Leo is also wonderful as the multi-layered Lois - her issues with the outside world, her marriage and with her husband's new 'relationship' are frank and undeniable. Leo has a clear understanding of character acting and she plays all her signature cards here.

 But the boldest performance is from Stewart - for those only familiar with her work in the 'Twilight' franchise, her portrayal of Mallory will kick you down with wrath and sheer velocity. This is a gritty, raw and grimy side of her that comes out in other smaller projects, yet she still acts with all the insecure and misguided charm as in her blockbusters. This is one of the bravest, most magnetic and powerful performances I've witnessed this year and it needs to be seen to be believed - just don't go in expecting Bella. 

 'Welcome to the Rileys' will be seen by very few people in the UK due to such heavyweight box-office competition but that doesn't take away just how special and relevant this film is. If it's playing at your local art-house/independent, take a seat and prepare to be wrapped up in this fantastic character study.

Courageous, beautiful and slight - Scott's feature may be silenced by bigger cinematic shadows, but it speaks volumes to those who experience it.

By Chris Haydon

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