Review: Welcome to the Rileys (Sundance)
PLOT: While on a business trip to New Orleans, a man (James Gandolfini) who recently lost his daughter in a car accident, develops a fatherly relationship with a teenage hooker (Kristen Stewart). Wanting to help this young woman, who reminds him of his late daughter, he abandons his agoraphobic wife (Melissa Leo)- who soon overcomes her own fears and follows her husband to New Orleans in an attempt to save the marriage.
REVIEW: WELCOME TO THE RILEYS was the 'other' Kristen Stewart movie to play at Sundance this year. There wasn't a whole lot of buzz going into this one, despite the high profile cast and the fact that this is directed by the spawn of Ridley Scott- Jake Scott, who previously directed the underrated PLUNKETT & MACLEANE (the musical score tends to pop up in the trailer for every big historical action movie that comes out).
The main reason I was curious to see RILEYS had nothing to do with Stewart. I like her, and I think that outside of TWILIGHT she's a great actress, but the real reason I wanted to see this was for James Gandolfini. As a huge SOPRANOS fan, I've been waiting for him to get a role that would allow people to see what an incredible actor he is, and RILEYS proves his range. His character in this film is far removed from the world of Tony Soprano, with the only thing the two characters sharing is the fact that they are both fathers. Here he plays a kindly, compassionate man, and his relationship with Stewart never becomes creepy. It's established early on that Gandolfini is not sexually attracted to the significantly younger Stewart, and throughout the film their relationship does not have any sexual undertones, as he only cares for her in a fatherly way. Gandolfini's really terrific in the role, and exudes a warmth he never really needed as Tony Soprano.
As his abandoned wife, Melissa Leo- of FROZEN RIVER is similarly good. One of the things I appreciated about this film was the fact that once Leo discovers her husband is living with a teenage prostitute, she immediately understands that his intentions are honourable. In any other film, there would have been some kind of emotional breakdown. Here she actually trusts her spouse- which is a rare thing to see in films nowadays. She soon joins their 'family', and Leo has a few really nice scenes with Stewart, where they establish a type of mother and daughter bond that is nicely splayed by both of them.
Of the three, Stewart probably has the most clichéd role, with her playing the young hooker with a heart of gold. Nevertheless, Stewart does a great job. Sundance has been very good to Stewart this year, with her showing up in two good films, and playing markedly different characters. She's actually a very good young actress, and I hope that her success in TWILIGHT means she'll continue to get quality films like this one made.
Probably the only thing negative I could say about WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is that, at times, the film comes off as too much of an 'after school special' with it's drug addled teenage runaway heroine. Luckily, the filmmakers were smart enough to give the film a somewhat unconventional ending, which gave the film the right note to go out on. While it's not among the best films I saw at the fest, it's still quite entertaining, and well worth seeing.
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