Cigarettes, the hapless stripper and James Gandolfini.  You’d think I was talking about an old episode of “Soprano’s.”  A far cry from Tony Soprano, Gandolfini tones down his gruff exterior to portray Doug Riley, a damaged man living with the aftermath of his daughter’s death.  A tragedy made worse by his agoraphobic wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), it takes a severe toll on their 30-year marriage.  Doug’s work takes him to New Orleans where he meets Mallory (played by Kristen Stewart), a 17-year-old runaway stripper/prostitute.  The two form a platonic bond as Doug tries to help Mallory get her life together in this character-driven film.

Directed by: Jake Scott
Written by: Ken Hixon
Starring: Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo
Rated: R

Stewart, widely known for her awkward, dark and edgy acting, isn’t exactly groundbreaking nor is she inappropriate for the role of Mallory.  She is passable as the lowly, unfortunate teen, but it’s her wardrobe (or lack there of) that characterizes a more obvious portrayal.  Being the catalyst that brings Doug and Lois back together, you want Mallory to be more than the skimpy outfits and dingy actualization but Stewart’s inability to add depth makes it difficult.  It seems that Stewart hasn’t stretched her acting ability beyond the realm of “Twilight,” “Into the Wild” and “The Cake Eaters.” 

While Stewart gives a fair performance, it’s Gandolfini and Leo whom you need to watch out for.

Even when they aren’t together in the same scenes, Gandolfini and Leo balance each other out perfectly with his delicate demeanor and her frightful awkwardness.  Gandolfini brings a forceful yet gentle approach to Doug. You trust Gandolfini to take you through the disparate elements and the characters of this story because Doug, as distraught as he may be, he is also the voice of reason that will help the couple move on from their daughter’s tragedy.  His ability to seamlessly express two extreme emotions makes Gandolfini a master of his craft.

Cohering to the theme of duality, Marc Steitenfeld’s banal yet haunting score early in the film paints a bleak, colorless existence that is Doug and Lois.  But the music kicks up several notches when Lois is propelled into action not because the emotional distance from Doug but the physical distance from him. Halfway through the film a comical energy comes into play as Lois reacquaints herself with the world again – struggling with the automated car seat settings, hyperventilating into a paper bag while driving on the highway, and bashfully flirting with a stranger at a roadside diner.  It’s like watching a baby learning how to walk again after falling over numerous times.  Then Leo varies it up by bringing a new level of gravitas to her scenes with Stewart, making it some of the film’s most captivating scenes.  Leo is utterly engaging as the helpless wife who can turn around to care for another helpless soul with such graceful progression.

In trying to make us relate to the harsh reality of couple dealing with an unimaginable situation, Director Jake Scott (son of Ridley Scott) does a good job in his second feature-length film.  The slow pacing is needed for a story like this but certain scenes go on longer than is necessary in the nearly two-hour film.  While it’s a palpable character study and features winning performances by Leo and Gandolfini, save “Welcome to the Rileys” for a rainy weekend at home.

About The Author

Nancy Kim is a Blast correspondent and photographer

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