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.


For better or for worse, Kristen Stewart will forever be associated with the ‘Twilight’ series, and with that every adulation or brickbat which audiences have displayed towards the movies. But let’s not forget that before her christening as Bella Swan, she was in fact a mighty fine teenage actress, in fact probably one of the finest of her generation- and ‘Welcome to the Rileys’, a fine drama written by Ken Hixon and directed by Jake Scott, is testament to that.

Hixon’s story avoids the histrionics in favour of a story grounded by very real characters, and so those expecting dramatic moments charged with emotion would do well to know that there are none in this film. Instead, he focuses instead on three characters- Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) who runs his own plumbing supplies business out of Indianapolis; Lois (Melissa Leo), Doug’s agoraphobic wife of 30 years; and Mallory (Stewart), the stripper Doug meets in a club while at a business convention in New Orleans.

The first half of the movie establishes the connection between Doug and Mallory, the former taking a genuine and fatherly interest in the latter’s life and well-being. Doug doesn’t want sex- rather, he cares for her by fixing up her house, and offers her $100 a day to stay at her place so he can keep an eye out for her. There is something akin to a paternal relationship between the two, and the reason Doug reaches out to Mallory becomes clearer towards the later half of the film.

But the clarity isn’t crucial, not when the audience is treated to some powerfully earnest performances by Gandolfini and Stewart. Gandolfini is no stranger to playing tough guys in charge (he was after all the head of ‘The Sopranos’), but there is a certain gracefulness and gentleness to his performance here that truly endears. Stewart on the other hand oozes vulnerability amid her tough-girl exterior, and her acting possesses a raw edge that keeps you riveted. Together, their scenes brim with unexpected warmth.

Lois’ sudden appearance in New Orleans threatens to disrupt their balance for a while, but kudos to director Jake Scott for handling the confrontation with maturity. Indeed, Lois isn’t some petty wife who suddenly gets all flustered that her husband is going to abandon her for some prostitute; rather, she meets Mallory and understands without much explanation why he is so drawn to her. The spectre of family tragedy looms large especially towards the end, but Scott uses this to reaffirm the connection that these two disparate individuals have established between each other.

Like all of life’s episodes, Scott keeps the movie real to the finish with a bittersweet ending. True, this is yet another story of loss and redemption, but there is no contrivance or schmaltz here. Instead, what you get is a poignant story of damaged individuals reaching out to each other, and realising that sometimes just that human connection alone may be enough to heal the wounds. 


The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound uses the surround for the lively background sounds of New Orleans. Otherwise, this is a movie whose sound is concentrated front and centre. Visuals are clean and sharp.



Review by Gabriel Chong

Posted on 21 July 2011