Ever since it's initial premiere at the Sundance Film Festival back in January of this year, "Welcome to the Rileys" has always been on my must see list. Unlike other film critics and journalists, I unfortunately, do not currently have a career in film journalism. I currently do it as a hobby/part time job. What does this mean? Well I don't get to hit all the festivals I would like to, but only a few per year. In the near future, I would hope to have a career in film journalism and be able to attend at least 20 festivals a year. Thankfully, I did have the opportunity to catch a screening of "Welcome to the Rileys" at the 19th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival this year.
"Welcome to the Rileys" tells the tale of Doug (James Gandolfini), a man who seems to have lost all desire for life. He lives at home with his depressed wife Lois (Melissa Leo) who hasn't left the house in several years. On top of this, he seems to have grown tired of his job as well as his marriage. One day on a business trip, Doug runs into Mallory (Kristen Stewart) who is both troubled and lost. This is when Doug realizes that he can help improve her life and seeks salvation by taking care of Mallory. This is where the underlying details of Doug's life begin to unravel...
The best part of "Welcome to the Rileys" hands down are the performances. I have been following Kristen Stewart as an actress for several years now ever since I first saw her in "Panic Room." Many people seem to have a love/hate relationship with her thanks to her unemotional and stiff role as Bella in the "Twilight" franchise. I would love to convince people to give her a shot as an actress but people seem to be rather set in their ways on her. For Stewart, it's hard not being the typical hot young actress. She's a rather unique actress with a non-typical Hollywood look and that's what I like about her. As for her performance in "Welcome to the Rileys," she is both raw and risqué. The amount of bad language and how dirty Stewart looks in the film would make a sailor look clean. Stewart's performance is by far the best one in the film. She is a lost soul with very little self respect in the film. She plays a stripper, which is a role I never thought I would ever see her play but just plays it perfectly. This is without a doubt Stewart's best role to date and even tops her performance as Joan Jett in "The Runaways." I would even argue that Stewart deserves an Oscar for her performance here, that's how good I felt she was in the film.
Besides Stewart, James Gandolfini gives an Oscar worthy performance here as well. I like the fact that Gandolfini decided to step out of his typical tough guy role to play a character who had a lot of heart and emotion was nice to see. This was a real turn for him. Many people know Gandolfini from "The Sopranos" and I am happy to say this role is a complete opposite from that. In this role, he is a very troubled character with a complex background. His performance is very dramatic, heartfelt, and powerful. When he argues with either Stewart or Leo in the film, you truly believe the raw emotion that is being displayed. Stewart and Gandolfini play off one another like pros in the film. They have great chemistry. As for Melissa Leo, she was also great in the film, she did a great job playing a wife who was damaged. When Stewart and Leo were together on screen their chemistry was amazing. As I said earlier in the review, the three lead roles were terrific! Director Jake Scott did a great job on this film. This was his first film since 1999 and he really hit this one out of the park. He captured the raw emotion and the suffering of all these characters, not to mention the fact he captured the grunginess of New Orleans. The direction of the film was great and there are several memorable scenes in this film including one scene with Melissa Leo's character Lois trying to drive her car for the first time in several years.
Ken Hixon was in charge of writing the screenplay for "Rileys" and I have to give him some credit points here. Some might say the the dialog was too over the top for him but I think that really shows how uneducated and the lack of respect Stewart's character had. I think it made it much more believable to a way that someone who had that background would speak. I also think the character development in the script was on point. The characters had the perfect amount of background to not make them interesting and not clichéd.
At the end of the day, "Welcome to the Rileys" almost lived up to all the hype surrounding it. I basically went to see the film for the performance by Stewart and Gandolfini and those definitely did not disappoint. The film, itself had good character development, good performances, was raw and gritty, and had a decent storyline. The ending wasn't perfect but it fit the bill in order to not be a typical clichéd movie. Its definitely holding a spot on my top 10 of the year even though it isn't near the top. The film is worthy of admission and I can definitely see this film getting some attention come Oscar season for the performances. If you are a fan of Stewart or of Gandolfini, this is a definitely a must see as well as those who appreciate a realistic dramatic film.
MovieManMenzel's final rating for "Welcome to the Rileys" is a solid 8 out of 10.