It's a tough balancing act - trying to be both sad and hopeful at the same time. "Welcome To The Rileys" tries to pull that tough balancing act off - and for the most parts it succeeds admirably. It's about troubled people and the tentative relationships they have with one another. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are the Rileys - Doug and Lois. Several years before the events of this movie their 15 year old daughter Emily (their only child) was killed in a car accident. They've never really been able to put the pieces back together. Their life is empty and shallow; their relationship is practically non-existent. Lois is heavily medicated and can't even leave the house; Doug goes from work to his weekly poker game and has managed to develop a relationship with a local waitress on the side. Then she dies suddenly and unexpectedly, and Doug just wants out. At a convention in New Orleans, he meets Mallory (or Allison), played by Kristen Stewart. Mallory is a teen stripper and hooker, and she reminds Doug of Emily. He bonds with her (as far as that's possible) and takes care of her, while at the same time telling Lois that he's not coming home. Meanwhile, Lois finally decides she wants Doug back and travels to New Orleans. The three of them cautiously try to make this unusual relationship work.
A big part of me looked at this with suspicious eyes - it's really not that believable. I'd love to believe that there are wonderful men out there just looking for an opportunity to help a teen prostitute without taking advantage of them. Unfortunately, the relationship between Mallory and Doug wasn't believable to me, and that was the biggest weakness of the movie. I understand that everyone in this is hurt and hurting, and maybe I can see hurting people latching on to each other, but I just didn't buy the relationship. I couldn't be Doug. I could see myself wanting to help a teen prostitute get her life together, but I couldn't see myself moving in with her and taking care of her, all the while watching her go off on her various "dates." That would drive me crazy. Doug's either a better man than I am or he's just an unrealistic character. I tend to think the latter.
Having said that, I was able to get around my disbelief by simply watching the story and the characters. It's interesting; they're interesting. The performances from those three leads are very good, and you have an interesting mix of emotions as you watch this relationship evolve. You root for everyone. You want things to work out. In the back of your mind, you kind of hope that Mallory goes to Indianapolis with Doug and Lois, lives with them, becomes a second daughter to them and everyone lives happily ever after. On the other hand, you really don't want that because it would be too much of a fairy tale. The movie does well to avoid the fairy tale.
Eventually, Mallory runs away, and as desperate as Doug is to save her, he's finally brought back to earth by Lois's gentle reminder: "Doug, she's not Emily." No. She's not. The movie ends on something of an ambiguous note. Doug and Lois go home, Mallory heads off to Vegas to continue her "career." They maintain contact, but how things will work out in the end for any of them is left very much as an open question. I liked that ambiguous ending. It was very much in keeping with a movie whose credibility stretched the limits a bit.
"Welcome To The Rileys" is a slow-paced movie; a very human drama. It doesn't unfold quickly. For all that (and for the overall air of unreality) I have to say (somewhat to my surprise) that I really enjoyed watching it. In its own way it's very moving to watch people who need help and people who want help trying to help each other, but not really being able to break through the barriers that a lifetime of troubles have erected. (8/10)
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