Directed by: Jake Scott | 110 minutes | drama | Actors: James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, Melissa Leo, Joe Chrest, Ally Sheedy, Tiffany Coty, Eisa Davis, Lance E. Nichols, Peggy Walton-Walker, Sharon Landry, Kathy Lamkin, Kerry Cahill, Ken Hixon, Elliott Gray, David Jensen
Jake Scott, director of the adaptation drama “Welcome to the Rileys” is best known as a video clip director. He has won several MTV Awards with the clip for R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. In 1999 he directed his first feature with “Plunkett & MacLeane”. It would be twelve years before he made his second film with “Welcome to the Rileys”. And, oh yes, Jake’s uncle’s name is Tony, his dad Ridley.
“Welcome to the Rileys” would be a fitting text for the welcome sign of a swampy swamp. However, the sign hangs in Indianapolis, next to Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo) front door. And where Sirens roam in swamps, their daughter’s ghost wanders in their relationship. She died in a car accident. You can talk to each other about that, you can throw everything out in the vain hope that it will keep your life and your marriage on track. Doug and Lois have chosen to tacitly drag this major event into their lives. Everyone for themselves. Lois has buried herself in their house, literally doesn’t dare to go outside, and Doug finds some air in his relationship with Vivian, a spirited waitress. But Vivian also dies. Just like that, out of nowhere.
Doug silently processes it, smoking a cigarette in the garage. After visiting his daughter’s grave, Doug realizes that he is still alive and most of all wants to live. A convention in New Orleans – the city of Katrina and of the “po boys”; the poor man’s buns – gives Doug a chance to leave it all behind. In a dirty strip joint he meets the underage Mallory (Kristen Stewart) who is actually called Allison. The skinny girl could literally have been his daughter. Not surprisingly, then, that Doug more or less takes her under his wing and trades his five-star hotel for her ramshackle rental room. “So you will be my sugar uncle?” She asks him during breakfast.
Her husband’s journey, in turn, drives Lois Riley out of the house. She jerks and bumps her husband’s over-automated Cadillac out of the garage. She goes out into the wide world. Looking for Doug, but also a bit to meet someone who asks her if she happens to be married to Superman. The plot of “Welcome to the Rileys” is simple and schematic: man takes care of teenage hooker, woman rediscovers herself and the world around her, after both have suffered a tragic loss. Melodrama was lurking in advance, and unfortunately it strikes more often as the end approaches. An ending that is heralded when Lois makes her clumsy return to the outside world. The conflict between Doug and Allison is in every way more rewarding than the forced love triangle that follows.
James Galdolfini gives Doug the calm determination of a brown bear, Kristen Stewart turns Allison into a convincing survivor without losing her vulnerability. Their tête-à-têtes sparkle. And as long as Lois is alone, Melissa Leo can show her comedic side. She is less able to cope with a silky scene in which Lois in a white sleeping shirt walks onto a nightly lawn to be embraced by the starry sky. She’s just not taking off. Simply unbelievable is the lightning-fast rapprochement between her and Allison, with which a surrogate family is set up right away. In a fairly sincere history up to that point, that is an overly conceived note.
“Welcome to the Rileys” relies on cold ground psychology. In a sense, the story is a series of well-known, crystal-clear articulated life lessons. They neatly organize, step by step, the elusive chaos in the lives of the Rileys. And that happens just a bit too gradually, almost too easily. It makes the film a well-executed fairytale, a safe, unsurprising processing fantasy.