Screen Rant's Ben Kendrick reviews Welcome to the Rileys
Welcome to the Rileys is director Jake Scott’s second foray into the Hollywood feature market (his first feature was the 1999 British historical comedy, Plunkett & Macleane), and is a respectable sophomore entry, considering the buzz that came out of Sundance. Certainly, the film does a lot of things right: the story is compelling, James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo provide terrific performances, and the post-Katrina New Orleans cityscape offers a great visual backdrop.
However, despite the film’s various strengths, nothing about Welcome to the Rileys really differentiates it from other quality independent dramas.
The film centers on Doug and Lois, an estranged couple who, eight years after the death of their daughter, are still paralyzed with grief. Despite living in the same house, they are entirely divided – until Doug takes a business trip to New Orleans and meets a troubled young girl, Mallory.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s the official synopsis:
“Once a happily married and loving couple, Doug and Lois Riley (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) have grown apart since losing their teenage daughter eight years prior. Leaving his agoraphobic wife behind to go on a business trip to New Orleans, Doug meets a 17-year-old runaway (Kristen Stewart) and the two form a platonic bond. For Lois and Doug, what initially appears to be the final straw that will derail their relationship, turns out to be the inspiration they need to renew their marriage.”
If you don't know, Jake Scott is the son of famed filmmaker, Ridley Scott. Prior to Welcome to the Rileys, the younger Scott mainly helmed documentaries as well as music videos (for bands such as U2, Radiohead, Oasis, and Tori Amos) – so the subtleties and depth of his latest film come as somewhat of a surprise. Considering the film is about a couple that has difficulty opening up to one another – and their encounter with a loud-mouth teenager without a filter - Scott has done a great job of balancing the two extremes. Rileys features a number of simple and static scenes - where unspoken thoughts and emotions are given the room to make an impact, instead of rushing into exposition or dialogue – while, at other times, the films lets loose with frantic energy that draws the characters out of their comfort zones.
The entire runtime is extremely balanced – to a fault. It’s hard to be worried about the characters and their situations because, after the first 45 minutes, moviegoers will totally get the film’s rhythm: for every moment of raw self-destruction there is an equally charming resolution - every bitter unsaid word is eventually brought out into the open with a positive outcome. As a result, despite offering a number of great character moments, the film’s story never challenges the audience, following a path that any discerning moviegoer would expect - down to the metaphorical fixer-upper house that Mallory lives in; which, of course, Doug begins to literally repair while attempting to rehabilitate Mallory.
The performances, specifically Gandolfini and Leo, are the most surprising aspect of the film – not that the two actors aren’t great in other projects like The Sopranos and 21 Grams, respectively. Gandolfini, who we’ve seen as a military man, mob boss, woman-beater, and all around tough-guy, is charming as Doug, a suburban husband who runs a series of hardware stores. Gandolfini has a number of challenging moments in the film, faced with portraying a much more vulnerable and helpless character than he often plays – not to mention the numerous times Doug awkwardly and politely rebuffs sixteen-year-old Mallory’s advances.
Leo, who once played Det. Sgt. Kay Howard on the police procedural Homicide: Life on the Street, is equally convincing - balancing the quirkiness of Lois, an agoraphobic Susie-homemaker, as well as the character’s road to empowerment. Surprisingly, Leo’s scenes with Stewart are especially intriguing.
Any moviegoers who were expecting Twilight starlet Kristen Stewart to drag the entire project down with pouty melodrama, will only be half-right. There is plenty of hair flipping and lip biting, but the anxious and awkward character fits within Stewart’s repertoire – as well as the movie at hand. Sure, at times, Stewart seems over-eager, as if she knows that roles like Mallory are key to being taken seriously as an actress in her post-Twilight career. In general, she succeeds in holding the film together, though it’s hard to consider it a breakout role for her – as some over-eager Sundance buzz suggested.
Aside from a great premise, and excellent performances, little else is surprising or fresh about Welcome to the Rileys. This isn’t to say that Rileys isn’t an enjoyable independent drama or a technically proficient film - because there are a number of interesting, as well as entertaining, character moments for moviegoers to enjoy.
In general, Director Jake Scott has delivered a competent film; Welcome to the Rileys is a great movie and easy to recommend but it’s unlikely to leave much of a mark on moviegoers in the long run.
Watch the trailer below to help you make up your mind: