A child of Sundance, "Welcome to the Rileys" is tailor-made for the film festival circuit. It features known actors working with troubling material that covers the strain of marriage, the dregs of society, and the opportunity for personal rebirth; however, it's far from challenging, dependent on the imagination put forth from the cast and crew. "Rileys" doesn't inspire the type of low-key redemptive response other pictures have captured, but it moves smoothly enough, battling its inherent predictability with a few moments of pure vulnerability, giving actors known primarily for one dimension a chance to try another.
Trapped in depression after the tragic loss of their teen daughter, Midwesterners Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo) have grown apart, almost strangers to each other on the eve of their 30th wedding anniversary. Off to New Orleans for a convention, Doug elects to explore the city, ending up at a strip club where he meets Allison (Kristen Stewart), a teenage hooker with a foul mouth and a limited intellect. Finding himself drawn to her sorry state, Doug moves in with the troubled girl, attempting to redirect her life, taking a sabbatical from marriage to accomplish this task. Curious, Lois snaps out of her fear-based existence and marches down to the city to confront her husband, only to find a makeshift family that reinvigorates her soul.
Jake Scott is the credited director of "Rileys," making a return to the feature-length moviemaking business after an extended break following his last picture, 1999's caper "Plunkett & Maclean." Son of Ridley, Jake Scott takes a serious breather from caffeinated stylistics to make a sobering drama about people and their stubborn methods of communication. His uncle Tony is probably appalled.
There's nothing to Ken Hixon's screenplay that demands the utmost attention; it's a film rooted more in character than drama, watching as three damaged people approach a dim sense of redemption through unlikely bonds. We observe bottled-up feelings shaped into purpose, as Doug finds a surrogate daughter in Allison, taking time to clean up her life piece by piece without an overall intrusion that would break their tentative friendship. In this girl, Doug finds life in ways he hasn't experienced in years, reaching out to her paternally to sustain a function that was tragically cut short. It's a beautiful sentiment, just erratically arranged by Scott, who pushes the actors into a few uncomfortable corners of melodrama and combat that are more wearying than rewarding.
The performances from Gandolfini and Leo are note-perfect in the way they articulate marital divide and suburban frost, delivering a powerful tone of distance that helps the film to a moderate sense of emotional reality. For the burly, heavy-breathing Gandolfini, the role is a refreshing change of pace, playing a man gently looking to fill a loneliness that's impossible to pinpoint, turning to anyone but his wife to feel something. The defenselessness looks good on the actor, who captures a renewed parental drive to Doug that makes Stewart's tic-riddled, far-fetched work here (she's Runaway 101 with her smeared eyeliner and greasy hair) more palatable than expected. I also enjoyed the bursts of relationship rejuvenation between Doug and Lois, seizing a visceral excitement of two people in love who've finally found the opportunity to communicate again.
"Welcome to the Rileys" meanders to a foregone conclusion, packing little punch as it decides exactly what type of note to end on. As found in the rest of the movie, the performances find the ideal tone of closure, leaving the future relationship between these three more intriguing than anything established in the film.