Title: Welcome to the Riley’s
Directed By: Jake Scott
Starring: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo
If you’re going to make a straight drama with zero bells and whistles, you better have a very fascinating story up your sleeve. Writer Ken Hixon may have developed a unique dysfunctional family film with curiously troubled characters, but on screen, much of that interest is extinguished by a lack of emotion, awkward relationships and primarily the film’s sluggish pace.
Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) isn’t a happy guy. He lost his only child in a car accident, his wife Lois (Melissa Leo) is agoraphobic and his only real solace comes from an extramarital affair with a diner waitress. While in New Orleans for a business conference, Doug just can’t get with it. Rather than adhere to the schedule, he ditches the convention and heads straight for a local strip club. That’s where he meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a supposedly 22-year-old stripper he winds up taking home and spending the night with. No, not for any dirty business, but just to be nice.
The next morning Doug awakes not to rush off to work, but to get to the store to buy the tools necessary to refurbish Mallory’s dilapidated abode. As the days go on the two begin to develop a father-daughter-like relationship with the exception of the fact that Doug pays Mallory $100 for every day he stays with her. Then again, the fact that he docks her a dollar for every F-bomb she drops, puts the connection right back into daddy-daughter territory. Meanwhile, back at home, Lois is desperately trying to overcome her fears and drive down to New Orleans to reunite with her husband.
Director Jake Scott gives you a taste of what to except in the very first sequence; a dreary display of an empty Doug running through the usual motions, card game with the guys, waffles at the diner, alone time with his waitress, Vivian (Eisa Davis), and then home to Lois. Even when he’s all cozy with Vivian, there’s a dismal lifelessness to Doug and even when he does perk up after meeting Mallory, that gloomy atmosphere always remains.
As far as the story goes, the raincloud that follows Doug wherever he goes is quite effective and paints a far more realistic picture. This is a guy who’s been suffering for the past eight years with the loss of his 15 year-old daughter; just because he finds a replacement doesn’t mean he’s going to walk around with a big grin on his face and Gandolfini does a fantastic job keeping Doug’s emotions in check. He isn’t moping around the entire film, but never seems particularly happy either. If you can get past that somber tone, the sole issue with his performance is his relationship with Stewart.
They’re certainly not supposed to just fall into a father and daughter scenario, for Mallory rebels against the notion and there’s a sense that Doug recognizes that that wouldn’t be right, but they’re a bit too cold. It’s hard to believe they really care for one another. Leo highlights this issue when she shares just a few minutes with Stewart alone on screen and garners far more passion than we’ve seen between Gandolfini and Stewart the first hour of the film. Unfortunately, other than a few particularly memorable moments, Leo is largely wasted in a primarily absent role.
As for Stewart, she’s okay. She does what’s required of her, which isn’t much of a stretch from her typical moody characters, but there still is something that doesn’t quite work. Both she and Gandolfini put on above average performances, but they just don’t jibe well and between the two, that causes Gandolfini’s performance to far overshadow Stewart’s. Gandolfini’s character is so subtle and Stewart’s so over the top, dropping every dirty word imaginable in a single sentence, that she can seem like she’s trying too hard. Their relationship and Stewart’s character don’t feel as natural as they could be, but their situation is interesting and innovative enough that you’re still interested in their circumstances.
However, even with that curiosity, the good performances and adequate filmmaking all around, Welcome to the Riley’s is just plain old boring. As much as you may want to pay attention and go along with Doug for the ride, things get so slow, it’s hard to keep your mind from wandering. Combine that issue with the grim subject matter and you wind up with a film that’s too difficult to enjoy.