Welcome to the Rileys plays off familiar themes. How a family deals with grief was explored in two of my favorite films of the 2009 festival year. The Greatest, my Top Pick from last year's Sundance Film Festival, and Accidents Happen, which played Tribeca last spring, both look at the tragic consequences of the premature loss of a child. In his second feature, director Jake Scott appears to be stepping into familiar territory.

At first glance Ken Hixon's screenplay says Pretty Woman meets My Fair Lady, with businessman Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) on a mission to tame wild stripper Mallory (Kristen Stewart). The story takes us in a more unexpected direction, however, and its originality begins to emerge. Welcome to the Rileys isn't about redemption per se, but the way that we are inexplicably changed by the strangers who serendipitously enter our lives.
The Rileys are Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo), and it's apparent from the start that their marriage has seen better days. While barely hinting at the tragedy which has slowly pushed them apart, Doug spends more and more time away from home while Lois stays locked inside. On a routine trip to a convention in New Orleans, a visit to a strip club places a young runaway (Kristen Stewart) into Doug's lap. What happens next is not as predictable as it seems, and a fuse is lit which burns ever so slowly as the lives of these three lost souls are altered in the most unpredictable ways.

The film's opening shot sends an immediate and powerful message about the look of this film -- a face obscured in shadow, close up, with only an outline hinting at the actor's identity. Then, lighting up to smoke, the familiar image of actor James Gandolfini fills the screen. The delicate use of natural light and shadow permeates the film, giving it a noir look that perfectly matches the mysterious nature of the characters' thoughts and true motivations. Night scenes are lit using the same type of lamp which illuminates the French Quarter, adding to the indie feel. Marc Streitenfeld's delicate, jazz-influenced score is used sparingly, punctuating the poignant moments of the movie.

Copious use of closeups blends well with the lighting and sound design, and cinematographer Christopher Soos makes full use of the playful visuals offered by colorful and quaint New Orleans. Pacing is appropriately slow, with the patient hand of editor Nicolas Gaster at the helm.

Most of all, Welcome to the Rileys is character-driven, with Leo, Gandolfini, and Stewart each owning their roles with an intensity that never wanes. Few actors play the tortured wife and mother as well as Melissa Leo. As the agoraphobic Lois Riley, her quiet desperation is palpable. Leo's face reflects painful tragedy one moment and shines with the glow of a new mother the next. Gandolfini combines the strength of an experienced road warrior with the innocence of a young man taking his first girl to the prom. His presence dominates this film and his sensitive performance is breathtaking. Stewart takes risks which would be daunting to actors twice her age. Brash and offensive, her Mallory is like a wild tigress in heat that's escaped from the zoo and evades capture at every turn. This could be her most shocking and memorable performance yet.

Director Jake Scott, in his second feature, doesn't shy away from his pedigree -- he's the son of Ridley and nephew of Tony Scott, who serve as producers -- but leaves no doubt that he comes from his own school of filmmaking. On the face of it, this film seems to be a variation on classic dramatic themes. But Welcome to the Rileys retains a unique quality to it that sets it apart from the rest. If you look closely enough, the message is clear. Life-changing experiences aren't planned. They hit you when you least expect it.


Author

Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

Comments (18)

  • Jaqueline Reply

    Such a beautiful review!!! Thank you so much for this Larry, and for sharing your knowledge with us. I can't wait for Welcome to the Rileys to hit theaters all over the world so that I can be a part of the lucky audience.

    January 31, 2010 at 7:05 pm
  • Adam Reply

    What's risky about playing a foul-mouthed prostitute? I could count on one hand the amount of famous actresses who have NOT played a foul-mouthed prostitute. It's a boring cliche. This wasn't a review, it's a kiss-up piece of advertising. No doubt you were one of the Kristen Stewart fans who e-mailed distributors BEGGING for them to buy this boring film.

    January 31, 2010 at 7:12 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thanks for your feedback, Adam. If you look back through any of the 8000+ articles I've written over the past few years or any of the hundreds of reviews of the 200-300 festival films I see each year, it would be quite apparent to you that I do not advertise nor get involved in campaigns to promote films. If I did I would lose all my credibility in the industry which, as awkward as it is for me say myself, is quite well-known and respected.

    Any time a critic likes a movie, the people who disagree accuse him of being a shill. If my review prompts the kind of negative comments as yours, I know I'm doing something right. Bring it on.

    January 31, 2010 at 7:20 pm
  • linda Reply

    wow adam , did you read other WTTR review? they all say the same thing, all said it was great and kristen perfomance was outstanding. your hate is so palpable it's funny. don't go to see it if you want, we don't give a ******* about it. this movie got rave review for many people who are far to be her fans.this girl will go very far in this industry it's obvious, so i hope you won't kill yourself one day

    ps: HATE IS BAD ONLY FOR THE HATER

    January 31, 2010 at 7:25 pm
  • redsoc Reply

    Folks are tough on Kristen Stewart for her [commercial] Twi success, but I am jazzed to see this movie for her performance opposite Gandolfini and Leo. Her indie aspirations are alive and well...

    Thanks for your take -

    January 31, 2010 at 7:49 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thank you redsoc. Naysayers might notice that I did not single out her performance as the best in the movie. It was Gandolfini who really carries it on his shoulders.

    January 31, 2010 at 7:52 pm
  • Jackie Reply

    Adam, you never indicated if you actually saw WTTR. If you didn't, you can't really criticize any of the performances or call it boring. I can't wait to see this movie and see performances that so far have only been raved about.

    January 31, 2010 at 8:12 pm
  • Jaclyn Reply

    Adam put a sock in it!


    WTTR was a great film and she is getting great reviews for her role.

    February 01, 2010 at 3:52 pm
  • Jed Reply

    Larry,

    Thanks for the review! It makes me want to see this movie more and more as I read the reviews - whether negative or positive. The cast alone is enough to entice movie goers.

    February 01, 2010 at 11:18 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thanks Jed, it's much appreciated. You know how indies are -- very polarizing. People either love 'em or hate 'em.

    February 02, 2010 at 6:03 pm
  • Corale Reply

    I love Kristen Stewart and everything about her. Thanks for the review, Larry but I doubt if we can have it her in Europe since they have already some problems with the distribution. That's the problem with indie films and another problem is the translation or subtitle of the film which costs more for the producers. I live in a non-english speaking part of Europe.

    February 03, 2010 at 6:16 am
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thanks for the comments, Corale. I wouldn't give up hope. I know they are trying to work out distribution everywhere. Sometimes just the opposite happens -- indies I see at festivals get distribution in Europe but not in the States, even in the non-English speaking areas.

    February 03, 2010 at 5:01 pm
  • Faapps Reply

    Sundance is a mixed bag. On one hand, the hotels will be packed with filmmakers and celebrities and not people coming into town for skiing. On the other hand, the celebrities and filmmakers still want to ski.

    February 11, 2010 at 10:20 am
  • Rion Reply

    Valuable information and excellent design you got here! I would like to thank you for sharing your thoughts and time into the stuff you post!! Thumbs up

    March 16, 2010 at 7:54 am
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thanks for the feedback and nice comments. It is much appreciated.

    March 19, 2010 at 3:52 pm
  • Mike Reply

    Great review! I wish I could go to Sundance. One of these days, eh?

    April 18, 2010 at 3:15 am
  • Modows Reply

    Nice review Larry, thanks.

    June 26, 2010 at 12:37 pm
  • Daenolds Reply

    Take me to the Sundance with you!

    June 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm

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