Welcome to the Rileys (2010)
Welcome to the Rileys epitomizes what indie filmmaking is about, and in contrast to my review of another celebrated 2010 indie release, namely Winter's Bone, I this time mean that as a compliment. In this unceremonious drama, tragedy has already struck once we get to know the characters. We meet a bereaved middle-aged couple - long-suffering and numb - the husband seeking outwards for relief, the wife locking herself in. Then the husband goes to New Orleans on a business trip and meets the 17-year-old stripper Mallory, emotionally hardened and edgy, whom he takes pity on and decides to form a parent/daughter-ish friendship with.
Although Welcome to the Rileys ostensibly is as bleak as these kinds of dramas get, there is no downward spiral here, simply a state of standstill. These are people who are used to being down and out - emotionally and/or socially, and what this film depicts is how their interrelation slowly provides the fluid to make the cog wheels start moving again. As directed by Jake Scott (Ridley's son), it is a story of warmth and optimism, although not unreservedly. He keeps everything in balance, in good indie-tradition, from the characters' halfway transitions to the semi-happy ending. And if the setup at times seems unlikely, the characterizations and performances convince us that this is a film about real people in very real situations; it is all identifiable and therefore weighty.
James Gandolfini has definitely shaken off his Sopranos persona, and here he gives an aptly austere performance, almost grandfatherlike. This works well opposite Kristen Stewart's debauched, precocious Mallory - a role fashioned after performances such as Jodie Foster's Iris in Taxi Driver. This may be Stewart's best work yet. The way she wraps her character's insecurity in toughness through only small looks and mannerisms demonstrates a real acting talent. Melissa Leo's sensitive performance as Gandolfini's wife completes a fine low-key actors' film.