Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More 'Welcome to the Rileys' Reviews added




Here's the master post of the 'Welcome to the Rileys' reviews!!!!! ♥

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


REVIEWS

•• USA Today, Anthony Breznican: Kristen Stewart's shocking depiction of a self-destructive 16-year-old stripper/prostitue in Welcome to the Rileys is bound to scandalize.

Those who prefer her only as Twilight's lovestruck Bella may be shocked, while others who know her more nuanced work in films such as Adventureland will see a fearless new side of the actress confirmed.

Rileys, the first of two films the Twilight and New Moon actress has at Sundance, premiered Saturday and co-stars James Gandolfini as the girl's burly protector, a grieving father who thinks he can save her in lieu of his own lost daughter.

Though she's playing young, this is no innocent story. Her character, sometimes calling herself "Mallory," sometimes "Allison," is vulgarly sexual, coming on to Gandolfini when he stops into a strip club on a business trip, though he is immediately turned off by her obvious youth and vulnerability. Instead, he pays her to let him try to save her -- but fines her for cursing, and tries to get her to leave her dangerous and degrading line of work.

In her first scene, Stewart is wearing knee-high fishnets, a bra that isn't much of one, and a red tartan skirt as she lunges and thrusts from the stage. It may sound provocative, but her character is so obviously wounded, both emotionally and physically, judging by the many bruises on her body, that it quickly becomes awful instead of enticing.

Gandolfini wants to throw his coat over her, and the audience does, too.

However the film is received, Stewart deserves credit for taking the risk of playing this part. It's a shockingly sexual performance, but not at all "sexy." Her character's vulgar come-ons suggest someone who may have a lot of experience, but still lacks any real understanding about intimacy.

For an actress like Stewart, it would be easy to play it safe. Knock out a romantic comedy or a Nicholas Sparks weepie while the vampire cash keeps rolling in from Twilight sequels. Instead, Stewart is challenging herself, and moviegoers, too.



•• Hollywood & Fine, Marshall Fine: I happened to catch three films in a row on Saturday at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival that all dealt with issues of family, particularly the idea of creating a family from people to whom you aren’t necessarily related but to whom you feel a connection.

They were all examples of what apparently is now thought of as the old Sundance sensibility – cast with familiar faces, either with distribution already in place through one of the indy majors (in this case, Sony Classics) or with a school of sales agents and distribution execs scampering for seats at the screenings. This, as opposed to the rebellious, devil-may-care Sundance that throws commercial considerations to the wind and lets the artists follow their inspiration, no matter how unwatchable the result may be. (Hello? “Obselidia”?)

The films I saw ranged from the uneven “HappyThankYouMorePlease,” a film written, directed by and starring Josh Radnor of the TV show, “How I Met Your Mother”; to the uncomfortably funny and moving “Please Give” by the too-long absent Nicole Holofcener; to the touching, understated “Welcome to the Rileys,” that featured the fascinating acting triad of James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart.

“Welcome to the Rileys” follows a familiar, slightly similar trope, with Gandolfini as an Indiana plumbing-parts entrepreneur who takes a fatherly interest in a young stripper (Stewart) he meets while at a convention in New Orleans. To the credit of writer-director Jake Scott, it’s a chaste relationship that builds in affection and mutual trust; though Gandolfini and Leo, as a married couple, have a history we’ve seen before (going through the motions since their teen daughter was killed several years earlier), “Rileys” doesn’t make any Hollywood plot turns, preferring to focus on the realistic prospects of a Midwestern couple suddenly trying to assume a parental role in the life of this young runaway.

It’s also smart enough not to make a big deal out of the emotional estrangement between Gandolfini and Leo: no simmering recriminations, or angry venting of years-old anger. They instead offer beautifully modulated performances as a couple that has lost its way (though would like to find it back), while Stewart attacks her role with a clarity and ferocity that is compelling. Stewart brings an emotional nakedness and spirit to the role that is reminiscent of certain male actors when they were young: Sean Penn for one, Leonardo DiCaprio for another.


•• Variety, Peter Debruge: For all the men who’ve ever thought about skipping that lap dance and adopting the stripper instead, “Welcome to the Rileys” is for you. For all the lonely housewives who’ve worried their husbands might be cheating on the road, “Welcome to the Rileys” suggests a feel-good alternative. Nothing short of preposterous, Jake Scott’s film imagines a grieving couple (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) who play surrogate parents to an underage stripper (“Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart) and spins it for the “Blind Side” crowd. But don’t expect Christians to flock to this Good Samaritan tale in the same way.

With a cast like this, buyers are sure to be interested, although writer Ken Hixon’s story is anything but an easy sell, especially given Scott’s almost tediously self-serious treatment of the material. Considering he’s the scion of Ridley Scott (and nephew to ADD artiste Tony Scott), the helmer makes the unexpected decision of drawing out his narrative. The sluggish pace serves to spotlight poignant scenes, but mostly feels as if the Rileys’ family tragedy has left their 30-year marriage in a state of suspended animation.

During a depressive funk, Indiana plumbing supply salesman Doug (Gandolfini) leaves housebound wife Lois (Leo) behind and stumbles into a New Orleans strip bar. There, he meets a 16-year-old pole dancer, Mallory (Stewart), who looks just enough like their dead daughter to unleash his paternal instincts. Where the “Twilight” movies try to hide Stewart’s pimples, here, those natural imperfections (plus a few bruises and suicide-attempt scars painted in for good measure) suit the character just fine. Hiding behind raccoon-eye mascara and electrical-tape pasties, Stewart is the perfect wretch, utterly convincing as a lost girl leveraging her sexuality to compensate for her complete powerlessness.

Doug and Mallory’s first meeting goes awkwardly, but this being the movies, they cross paths again later that night at a local diner. Before long, the big bear of a man (as gentle as Tony Soprano was dangerous) proposes paying Mallory $100 a day to stay in her filthy apartment, fending off her sexual advances and fining the foul-mouthed teen every time she uses the F-word.

From “Taxi Driver” to “Hardcore,” the notion of introducing chivalry to the seedy world of sex workers is nothing new, though such stories tend to be more exciting when a suitable villain (say, a drug dealer or pimp) arises to thwart the well-meaning outsider. “Rileys” sees itself as being above such cliches, though it defaults into an equally unoriginal series of more “realistic” tropes, such as the less-than-happy ending.

The title, ironic at first (seen nailed to the garage of the Rileys’ joyless home), becomes clear about halfway through, after shellshocked Lois drives herself all the way down to retrieve her husband. With the Rileys back together, they both turn their attention to Mallory, and though such an arrangement can’t possibly last, it provides something of a substitute for their wounded family.

The initial Riley reunion demonstrates the near-miss nature of Scott’s direction, where understated music, lensing and editing fail to convey the emotion from screen to audience. Though perfs are universally strong, both Gandolfini and Leo seem like odd casting choices, forcing an awkward Southern accent from the former and swapping Leo’s all-weather toughness for something more fragile. Such obstacles aside, the pair are downright dynamite in the pic’s more confrontational scenes, as well as quiet moments, such as Gandolfini sobbing alone in his garage, or Leo enjoying her first night in years under the stars.


•• Hitfix, Gregory Ellwood: The first major Kristen Stewart film of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival debuted at the Racquet Club theater this afternoon in Park City, Utah and the results were certainly disappointing. Directed by Ridley Scott's son, Jake, "Welcome to the Rileys" features fine performances by stars James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Stewart, but the screenplay is almost pointless and the film moves at a glacial pace.

Mostly set in New Orleans, "Rileys" finds Gandolfini as a middle aged married man from Indianapolis whose life is at a crossroads. His wife (Leo) hasn't left the house since their 15-year-old daughter died in a car accident almost 10 years prior and his only escape, his growing relationship with a waitress, ends after she suddenly passes away from a heart attack. While at a convention in The Big Easy he runs into a young stripper named Mallory (Stewart) who strikingly reminds him of his deceased daughter. While Mallory -- we later discover her real name is Alison -- is looking for more money in the back room (she prostitutes on the side), Gandolfini is transfixed on trying to help her. After dramatically informing his wife he plans on staying in New Orleans and selling his business to do so, the three protagonists find themselves converging down south where more secrets are revealed to the characters and the audience. Unfortunately, besides the daring lengths Stewart goes to for the role (more on that later) it's not as exciting as it seems on paper.

As expected, the actors are all game trying to bring a realistic three-dimensionality to the characters -- a difficult task considering the clinched themes of the screenplay. Gandolfini has the toughest task trying to convince audiences why his character would make such a big jump, but he mostly succeeds (even if his southern accent jumps in and out at times). Leo is the most impressive of the three as she brings this shattered woman and "perfect mom" slowly out of her shell. Stewart has the gutsiest role as she shows a sexual side she's never displayed to this level before. Fishnets, huge high heels, some revealing rear end shots and running around in her underwear aside, Mallory/Alison is a foulmouthed kid who will pretty much do anything but one specific sexual act not prime for publication. And yes, you'll words come out of Stewart's mouth you may never hear again over what should be a long cinematic career.

The biggest problem with the film has to be Jake Scott's direction. He's smartly hired actors who can bring the roles to life, but his sense of tone is significantly off (there are way too many unintentionally funny moments) and unlike his father or uncle Tony, he has absolutely zero sense of pacing. The film is 1:45 before credits, but most audiences will feel as though it's well past the 2 hour mark by the time it ends. This Ridley needs a little more experience if he's going to prove his filmmaking talent really is up to his family's legacy. To be honest, it's very disappointing the film even made it into the festival's dramatic competition. While the field hasn't been completely screened so far, "Rileys" would have been much more appropriate in the premieres category.

As for distribution, the dark and slow "Welcome to the Rileys" is a very tough sell. As "The Yellow Handkerchief" has shown, just having the "Twilight Saga" superstar in a movie doesn't guarantee pick up and many distributors will have to question whether there is a real audience beyond the big city art house scene and the most loyal of Stewart fans.


•• Film School Rejects, Neil Miller: Every year at Sundance, I seem to find that one movie that I just can’t place. It is neither great, nor awful. It is filled with talent and at times, great performances, but it fails to really move me. It also — especially in this case — show potential. Such is the case with the second film from director Jake Scott, Welcome to the Rileys.

The film stars James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo as a couple who has spent years mourning the tragic loss of their 15-year old daughter. They cope in their own ways. He sleeps with a waitress from the waffle house every Thursday night, and she never leaves the house under any circumstance. But after tragedy strikes in his world, Doug (Gandolfini) travels to New Orleans for a trade show and lands himself in the life of a very young, runaway girl named Mallory (Kristen Stewart) who spends time stripping and turning tricks to maintain her meager, dirty existence.

Instead of doing what most men would do when faced with Kristen Stewart as a stripper and laying pipe (he owns a plumbing supply company), Doug takes Mallory under his wing. He helps her clean up her house, attempts to give her direction in life, all while telling his wife that he just can’t come home. This prompts his wife to leave the house and come to New Orleans, where she and Doug spend time weaving themselves into Mallory’s life, finding only more trouble as they get more and more involved.

It’s a fascinatingly uneven movie, which moves tonally from comedy to drama and back to drama in a rather plodding way. The relationship between Doug and Mallory is central to the movement of the story, and while the film moves slowly, it is their moments that make the film engaging. There is also some inconsistent visual style to the film. Early on, Scott and cinematographer Christopher Soos show off the Rileys’ home in Indianapolis and New Orleans in a very fluid, sometimes gritty fashion. As the film moves along and Mallory comes into the picture, the camera work becomes stiff and uninspired.

Inconsistencies aside, the performances are great all around. James Gandolfini stumbles at time with a very broad “southern” accent (which is curious, as he’s from Indiana), but for the most part he’s as vulnerable and virtuous as we’ve ever seen him. Melissa Leo, as always, is splendid as the awkward, calm wife. As the film moves from start to finish, her character blooms in front of our eyes, opening back up to the world after clearly being crippled by her daughter’s death.

Kristen Stewart is at her bravest. When we first meet Mallory, she’s surrounded by quick-cuts and music video sex appeal, but there’s clearly something else going on. She’s broken, tired and as we learn later, just a frightened little girl. Stewart plays through all of these layers incredibly well. She’s sexy, tortured and frightened. At some points, all at once. This isn’t her character from Twilight. It is a far more mature role, and one that is a polar opposite to Bella. Unless Bella starts showing her bare ass in the third movie…

If there’s one thing to be gleaned from Welcome to the Rileys, its that a movie can be plodding and uneven, but can still be saved by performance. In the end, Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart carry the film across the finish line and make it not just watchable, but intriguing in its own special way. It isn’t a very heartwarming story, but one of resilience and survival. And one worth watching, either way.


•• Film.com, Laremy Legel: Rating B
Welcome to the Rileys, to its credit, doesn’t conform to narrative expectations. It’s a drama, but a drama on the edge of utter destruction. Kristen Stewart is Allison … or Mallory, depending on the scene (trust me, this makes sense). She’s an exotic dancer in New Orleans, she meets James Gandolfini (who is on a business trip), and we’re off from there.

James Gandolfini (as Doug Riley) is a damaged man. His wife, played by Melissa Leo, is a damaged woman. And of course Kristen Stewart’s Allison is not exactly emotionally stable. As such, the interplay between the relationships involved is fraught with peril. It makes for an engaging, if tense, viewing experience.

On the acting front, Stewart is a live wire throughout the near two-hour running time presented here. She comes off like a rabid dog, completely unpredictable; it’s easy to see why directors see so much potential in her work. She’s great here. Gandolfini is also excellent, he continues to pick tremendous scripts (his work in In the Loop was also exceptional).

The intriguing part about Welcome to the Rileys is the innovation level of the story itself. It’s not about New Orleans, it’s not about strippers, it’s not about any one thing in particular, though the broad themes of personal responsibility, grief, and trust are certainly broached. Each scene involves heavy doses of dialogue, but heavy doses of silence and body language, too. It’s a patient and deliberate effort out of director Jake Scott and it portends well for his career. Mr. Scott clearly has a deft touch, something that will serve him well should he choose to continue in the genre of indie/dramatic work.

My only knock on Welcome to the Rileys? It’s probably too subtle a work to really stick with viewers. The dialogue and settings are so natural that they don’t lodge in your memory for long afterward. But you could do far worse. See it for Stewart’s electric performance, Galdolfini’s papa bear strength, or to scout an up-and-coming director in Jake Scott. If it makes it to a theater near you, give Welcome to the Rileys a few hours of your life. We’ll meet back here to discuss.


•• Bitchin' Film Reviews, Blake Griffin: Rating 3/4
Kristen Stewart is continuing on her crusade to try and distance herself from the Twilight series, and establish herself as a serious actress. Last year she did it with Adventureland, and this year, she has a couple films at Sundance. In one, she plays Joan Jett, and in it has a lesbian love scene with Dakota Fanning. In the other, Welcome to the Rileys, she plays a 16 year old, runaway, making ends meet in New Orleans as a part-time exotic dancer, and part-prostitute. Okay, we get it Kristen, you’re a serious actress. Fortunately, she has some great company in Rileys that makes her look pretty good.

This film comes from director Jake Scott. Scott has done some TV stuff, but most notably, he’s directed music videos for Radiohead, Tori Amos, REM, and The Cranberries. The story is written by Ken Hixon, who written anything since the 2002 De Niro film, City by the Sea. When summarized, the story sounds awfully cliched. James Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, a successful business owner who’s married to a literal shut in played by Melissa Leo. She hasn’t left the house since her daughter died in a car wreck four years ago. In an attempt at a normal relationship, Doug starts sleeping with a diner waitress, is dies at the beginning of the movie. During a business trip to New Orleans, Doug comes across Mallory (Stewart), who looks quite a bit like his daughter, and clearly need help. He moves in with her. He takes the energies formerly focused on his affair, and redirects it too her. This prompts the shut in mother to drive down to the Big Easy, where she ends up moving in with the two, and they become a makeshift family, teaching each other to heal…

Yes, it’s about as cliched as you get. Fortunately, there are some fantastic parts of the film. Leo’s performance is outrageously good. Usually stuck in heavy handed crime dramas (Homicide, Frozen River), she was free to showcase her perfect comedic timing. I’m not being over superlative to say that she was the best part of the show. Next comes Stewart, whom I love to hate. I’m not sure why. But this is the first film that I’ve seen her in where I felt like she wasn’t playing herself. She really made an impression and if this is the sort of stuff we can expect out of her, I’ll soon be a fan. Then there was Gandolfini, who can’t do a southern accent to save his live. The script had fun making him a puritanical sort, which made his speech to Mallory about not using the f-word just SO hilarious since we all know him as Tony Soprano. Yes, the irony is that in-your-face. This is certainly standard Sundance fare, especially considering the ending, which is the same ending I’ve seen in three movies so far at the festival. However, after a slow start, it picks up quite niceles. It’s definitely above average, and is both charmingly funny, and will tug at your heartstrings.


•• Moviehole: We all handle past tragedy in a number of ways. For the Rileys, not communicating is one such answer and a theme of Jake Scott’s beautifully executed "Welcome to the Rileys".

Years after their teenage daughter’s death, Lois and Doug Riley [James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo], an upstanding Indiana couple, are frozen by the continuation of their grief. She isolates herself in their suburban home, refusing to leave and symbolically, as it were, escape from her own inherent darkness.

Meanwhile Doug, a successful businessman, is cheating on Lois with a local waitress to ease his own pain. On a business trip to New Orleans, Doug imposes himself into the life of an underage hooker and stripper [Kristen Stewart] becoming her platonic guardian for reasons he doesn’t quite understand. Lois however summons all of her remaining force to overcome her agoraphobia and drive to New Orleans to reconnect with the husband she seems to be losing.

"Welcome to the Rileys" is a rather exquisite, poignant tale that explores loss in various incarnations and rediscovering what it is that makes us human. Director Jake Scott has crafted a work that is a deft character study, beautifully directed with grace and finesse. This is an often tragic tale told with a lack of sentiment, yet without avoiding its emotional centre. In so doing, he has elicited a trio of fine performances.

Gandolfini is perfectly cast as the conservative father who takes this teenage runaway under his wing, despite an attempt at a Southern accent that seems irrelevant. Melissa Leo is exquisite as the agoraphobic wife who must reconcile a past before facing a future.

But the film belongs to Kristen Stewart, raw, uncompromising, magnificent at every turn, delivering a ferocious and emotionally-charged performance."Welcome to the Rileys" is a tough, challenging work, one that takes its time in exploring the fragility of human behaviour. It is a haunting, beautiful work with a masterful performance by Stewart at its heart.


•• Salte Lake Magazine: Imagine my dismay when I realized Twilight’s Bella Swan herself was the lead role in a film about a stripper. Great! The perfect role to scream to the world “Kristen Stewart is the girl your mom warned you about!”

Welcome to the Rileys follows couple Doug and Lois, trying to deal with the death of their daughter, who was killed eight years earlier.

Lois (Melissa Leo) struggles, hiding from the world, while Doug (James Gandolfini) has an affair with a waitress. And in comes the foul-mouthed, underage hooker Mallory (Stewart) to save the day.

Doug meets Mallory in a New Orleans strip joint, but doesn’t want any of her under-age lovin’. Instead, he just needs a place to stay, so he can get his life back in order. He offers Mallory $100 dollars for short-term rent and moves in with her.The relationship between Doug and Mallory is heart-warming. The connection between the two is strangely enduring and acceptable, almost letting us forget the circumstances surrounding the bizarre situation. The two have undeniable on-screen chemistry that sparks in each scene.

The movie takes some unexpected turns, but for the most part is predictable. The subject matter of the movie is dark, but presented in an easy-to-digest manner. The script has potential, but the actors make the film a living, breathing story – complete with a beating heart.

Gandolfini gives his usual top-notch performance and Leo brings the raw and emotive Lois to life — desperate for her husband to come home and struggling to fill the empty void in her life. Her grief-stricken mother caught in a tornado of guilt and sadness is easy to get swept up in.

And I better give credit where it’s due: this movie wouldn’t be half as good without Stewart. She injects an attitude into a young girl with a dark history, hiding the pain behind f-bombs and a lack of clothing. Not a stitch of Kristen or Bella in the role, she is 100 percent Mallory. Stewart gave everything and it shows.

Altogether, the film was so-so, but it was the perfect opportunity for Stewart to throw away her Twilight image, and she pulled it off.


•• We are movie geeks, Scott Hutchison: Rating 4,5/5
Jake Scott may only have 2 feature full length films to his credit but don’t let that fool you… this guy is a champ. WELCOME TO THE RILEYS will roll into my top ten films of Sundance because of both the strong direction and great performances from this incredible cast.

Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) owns a plumbing supply company that does very well for him and his wife. Every Thursday night he plays cards with his friends and then goes to eat breakfast at a diner. The waitress that serves him is also his mistress whom he has been seeing for the past 4 years.

Louis Riley (Melissa Leo) is a stay at home house wife who does exactly that… stays at home. She doesn’t leave her house, not even to check the mail at the end of the driveway. She knows of the affair but to keep the peace she never brings it up to Doug. Doug is forced to go on a trip to New Orleans for a convention and after a visit to a strip club becomes increasingly interested in one of the young strippers, Mallory (Kristen Stewart).

In this particular strip club, not only are the dances for sale but also the girls. After Mallory offers to have sex with him for money he realizes that this girl needs some major help. It also doesn’t help that this girl looks identical to the daughter they lost a couple of years previously.

Doug decides that in order to help this girl he needs to stay in New Orleans. He makes her a proposition to move in and help take care of her. He drops the bomb to his wife that he wouldn’t be home for a while. This devastates her and she decides that the only way to win him back is to drive to New Orleans and get him.

I don’t want to ruin the rest of the film for you so that’s as far as I will delve into the plot. I will tell you that the three main actors in the film, James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart all turn in amazing performances. It would have been very easy for things to go south in each of the roles but Jake Scott pulled out what could be one of the best performances of Stewart’s career and definitely my favorite of Gandolfini and Leo.

WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is a touching, emotional journey that you aren’t really sure where it will go, but leaves you happy with where it ends. Jake Scott does an amazing job of getting what he wants for each character and makes every scene raw and real. There is a lot of grittiness in the story and it fits in perfectly with the storyline. You shouldn’t be disappointed after this film.


•• Eye for film, Nick Da Costa: Rating 4/5
Jake Scott’s Welcome To The Rileys is a visually arresting, emotionally complex look at the lives of Lois (Melissa Leo) and Doug Riley (James Gandolfini), a respected Indiana couple racked by grief after the death of their teenage daughter in a traffic accident. She shuts herself away in their family home while he slips away to New Orleans and forms a strange arrangement with teenage stripper-cum-prostitute Mallory (Kristen Stewart) who he takes under his wing, seeking a new way of healing his pain. Spurred into action by this rash decision, Lois frees herself from her crippling agoraphobia and sets out to save both her marriage and her soul.

While this might sound like a trite story of redemption, it’s one infused by both a unique aesthetic and compelling central performances. There’s an interesting disconnect as Doug works through a pattern of parental rituals and tableaus with Mallory in New Orleans and Lois embarks on a whimsical journey to rediscover herself and her relationship with her husband.

It’s not perfect, the ending, as other films at this festival have, doing damage to the subtle build-up of emotion, but the performances are so intricate and nuanced that you’re willing to let it slide. Gandolfini and Leo are completely believable as a couple that haven’t quite lost their love, simply buried it deep within a home where the only real heartbeat comes from the sad ticking of a clock. The way they gently rebuild their relationship is so genuine and without fanfare that you feel like an intruder. That you might break such a delicate thing simply by observing it is part of the film’s magic.

A special mention has to go to Kristen Stewart who strips herself bare, both literally and figuratively. It's the details that matter here, not some petulant one-note image drummed up by the press. The rawness of the stripper’s uniform, profane, all panda eyes and duct-taped nipples contrasted with the timid girl scrubbed of make-up, pulling sweater cuffs over her hands and picking at her acne.

She builds such a strong rapport with Gandolfini, who evinces a surprising amount of vulnerability from that bear-like stature, that you almost forget she isn’t his daughter. And it reminds you that these seemingly harmless displays of concern between genuine family members can actually be threatening between strangers. A shot of Stewart shoulders hunched, arms crossed, head dropped to her chest in contrition as Gandolfini looms over her sums this up perfectly.


Most interesting is how director Scott seems to have picked Lois as his favourite. Visually it’s her that gets the most interesting arc, as his choice of shots reflect her guilt and subsequent transformation. Initially she is shot with her back to the camera, eyes obscured or, even when in full focus, looking unengaged. Indistinct. A blob on one of her canvases. Later, once she has braved the wide expanses of her car and chanced the highway, Scott adopts a more self-consciously artistic approach as Lois flits like a ghost across the lawn of an eerily deserted hotel. The stars come out and it’s fixed like a photograph. A transcendent experience.

Once the couple are reunited and confidence returns, so does unglamourised reality. Not that the New Orleans location isn’t very beautiful, it’s just not picture card perfect. It’s run down and rusty, with stained glass windows and paint peeling. What is certainly special is the light. It’s a magic hour that brings such solidity and substance to the images that you know it’s something you can believe in. There’s a potent reality that rises above the familiar themes and, in tandem with the performances, touches you deeply.


•• Daemon Movies, Sandrine Sahakians: WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is a film that I really loved at this year’s Sundance. It is directed by Jake Scott and stars James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart, and Melissa Leo.

Welcome to the Rileys follows the story of Doug Riley, a married man, who while taking a business trip in New Orleans, starts an unlikely friendship with an underage stripper, Mallory (Kristen Stewart). He tells his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo) that he won’t come home for a while and she decides to take a trip to New Orleans to reclaim her marriage. Now this might seem like an ok story, but add on top of that the fact Doug and Lois lost their teenage daughter, that Lois hasn’t left the house ever since, and the fact that Mallory reminds Doug of his daughter, and you have Welcome to the Rileys.

I thought the story was very beautiful and had such a great character study and dynamic. It really is about how three strangers can change each other, and even though Doug and Lois are technically married, it is clear that they have been strangers to each other for years.The film is very raw and doesn’t always go where you expect it to. The performances are really incredible and only help you get immersed in the universe of these three individuals.

James Gandolfini shows a softer side of himself in Welcome to the Rileys, which we don’t often see him portray. I thought it suited him so well and made the character really likeable. This is probably one of my favorite parts he has played so far.

Melissa Leo is amazing as Lois, she just captured that character so perfectly and created some really funny moments, such as her not being able to figure out how to move the automatic seat in the car before leaving for New Orleans (one of the funniest scenes). But even more impressive, she goes through such an interesting transformation as a character, it’s hard not to enjoy watching her on screen.

As for Kristen Stewart, she proves without a doubt that she can hold her own in any movie, and is not tied in any way to her character of Bella in the Twilight Saga, which not every actor would be able to do with such a franchise. If you’re a fan of hers, you’ll find her pretty unrecognizable in Welcome to the Rileys.

Mallory is also a very interesting character because of not only the relationship she has with Doug, but also the journey she goes on after she meets him.

Overall, I found the film really great. The story is so beautiful and well played out, you won’t always know what’s coming next. It has humor and heartbreaking moments. The performances are impeccable and give you a realistic look at the lives of these characters. The movie will take you on a trip with these broken people and it’s an amazing trip to take.


•• JoBlo, Chris Bumbray: Rating 7,5/10
WELCOME TO THE RILEYS was the 'other' Kristen Stewart movie to play at Sundance this year. There wasn't a whole lot of buzz going into this one, despite the high profile cast and the fact that this is directed by the spawn of Ridley Scott- Jake Scott, who previously directed the underrated PLUNKETT & MACLEANE (the musical score tends to pop up in the trailer for every big historical action movie that comes out).

The main reason I was curious to see RILEYS had nothing to do with Stewart. I like her, and I think that outside of TWILIGHT she's a great actress, but the real reason I wanted to see this was for James Gandolfini. As a huge SOPRANOS fan, I've been waiting for him to get a role that would allow people to see what an incredible actor he is, and RILEYS proves his range. His character in this film is far removed from the world of Tony Soprano, with the only thing the two characters sharing is the fact that they are both fathers. Here he plays a kindly, compassionate man, and his relationship with Stewart never becomes creepy. It's established early on that Gandolfini is not sexually attracted to the significantly younger Stewart, and throughout the film their relationship does not have any sexual undertones, as he only cares for her in a fatherly way. Gandolfini's really terrific in the role, and exudes a warmth he never really needed as Tony Soprano.

As his abandoned wife, Melissa Leo- of FROZEN RIVER is similarly good. One of the things I appreciated about this film was the fact that once Leo discovers her husband is living with a teenage prostitute, she immediately understands that his intentions are honourable. In any other film, there would have been some kind of emotional breakdown. Here she actually trusts her spouse- which is a rare thing to see in films nowadays. She soon joins their 'family', and Leo has a few really nice scenes with Stewart, where they establish a type of mother and daughter bond that is nicely splayed by both of them.

Of the three, Stewart probably has the most clichéd role, with her playing the young hooker with a heart of gold. Nevertheless, Stewart does a great job. Sundance has been very good to Stewart this year, with her showing up in two good films, and playing markedly different characters. She's actually a very good young actress, and I hope that her success in TWILIGHT means she'll continue to get quality films like this one made.

Probably the only thing negative I could say about WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is that, at times, the film comes off as too much of an 'after school special' with it's drug addled teenage runaway heroine. Luckily, the filmmakers were smart enough to give the film a somewhat unconventional ending, which gave the film the right note to go out on. While it's not among the best films I saw at the fest, it's still quite entertaining, and well worth seeing.


•• Collider, Ramses Flores: Jake Scott’s directorial debut about a friendship that begins to develop between a man (James Gandolfini) and a young stripper (Kristen Stewart) in New Orleans is a pretty good film that is made great thanks to some very strong performances by Gandolfini, Stewart, and Melissa Leo (Frozen River). It also helps that Scott has filled his film with a lot of excellent character moments and humor that makes watching these characters interact on screen a fun thing to see by the films final act. I also admire that Scott decided to ditch the indie sensibilities that are associated with most “indie dramas” now and instead opted for some gorgeous cinematography for his film. The cinematography, direction, performances, and screenplay do elevate an otherwise cringe inducing premise into one of the better dramas I’ve seen recently.


•• Cinema Autopsy, Thomas Caldwell: I went to see Welcome to the Rileys mainly because of James Gandolfini and he certainly gives a fine performance as a man who is still coming to terms with the death of his teenage daughter. He befriends and takes is upon himself to look after an underage stripper played by Kristen Stewart, in a role even grittier than the one she played in The Runaways. When Melissa Leo’s character enters the narrative more substantially, the film gets even more interesting as it explores the situation of a middle-class America couple wanting to ‘save’ an underprivileged teenager. Welcome to the Rileys has some similarities to The Blind Side, as both films explore a similar scenario, but Welcome to the Rileys is more complex, less conservative, less offensive and an overall far superior film.


•• Deadline, Pete Hammond: Fine acting from James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart highlight this drama about the effect that a young runaway has on a married couple. Oscar Chance: This quiet and effective drama was a Sundance success. But it’s likely to be more prominent at the Spirits than the Oscars.


•• The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt: An oft-told tale gets brightened by three fine performances.

In his second feature, "Welcome to the Rileys," longtime commercial and music video director Jake Scott takes on the more than trite, if not completely tattered, tale of the prostitute and the man who wants to save her.

Oh, there's a twist on that theme to be sure, but such a story is never going to work on a realistic level.

Scott gets nice performances though from a cast that is a virtual three-hander -- James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart.

Despite its selection in Sundance's Dramatic Competition, where one expects experimental and edgy works, the film feels old-fashioned and somewhat removed from contemporary indie filmmaking. "The Twilight Saga" Stewart should deliver a curious audience -- and she certainly satisfies that curiosity -- yet no one should anticipate much theatrical business. The movie will gain better traction in VOD and DVD.

That twist on the old theme positions Gandolfini and Leo's Doug and Lois Riley as a Midwestern couple drifting aimlessly through life since the death of a beloved teenage daughter. He maintains a plumbing supply business and brightens his week with card games and an affair with an obliging waitress. For her part, Lois has developed agoraphobia so she never leaves the house.

At a convention in New Orleans, Doug encounters a teenage stripper and hooker, Mallory (Stewart). Without knowing why exactly, he becomes a tenant in her rat's nest of a house and sets about fixing the place, getting her proper bedding and subtly trying to rehabilitate her. Of course, the audience knows exactly why he has adopted a troubled girl the age of his dead daughter.

When her husband refuses to return home without explanation, Lois summons her courage and vanquishes her mental devils to the point she is able first to venture into the car, then back it out of the driveway and finally drive it to New Orleans. There she confronts the tenuous situation between her husband and a not-always grateful hooker. She gets the situation immediately though and pretty much takes over the mother role with near disastrous results.

Buying any of this? It's all a little too obvious and simultaneously implausible, but Ken Hixon's screenplay does serves as a blueprint for three fine performances. Galdofini plays utter misery and then utter optimistic conviction with ease. His attempted rehab of Mallory has a sweet poignancy that almost sweeps away the cliches.

Stewart's Mallory is something the cat dragged in, a person of little self-worth who is determined to lose even what little she does have. She can barely relate to an adult other than with her sexuality -- or more accurately, her sexual availability. Anger and self-hatred propels her body through each day.

Leo's bereaved woman already has one foot in the grave -- she has even ordered gravestones for herself and Doug -- but New Orleans gives back her life. She has conquered her fears but she needs to conquer her guilt over her daughter's death.

Marc Streitenfeld's score with a slight jazz influence and Christopher Soos' close-up camerawork within a de-glamorized New Orleans are major pluses. But the movie never overcomes the triteness of its premise.


•• The Film Stage, Jack Giroux: Rating B+
Welcome to the Rileys isn’t as creepy or as smaltzy as it could have been. The script, if handled inappropriately or in a blunt manner could have led to a horrendous hallmark movie. But due to subdued and patient direction from Jake Scott and a trio of terrific performances, Welcome to the Rileys is a film filled with well-earned heart.

Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois Riley’s (Melissa Leo) marriage is falling apart. After the death of their teenage daughter, their marriage has grown colder and colder. Both are isolated in their own saddened worlds. Doug is having an affair, while Lois lives a trapped life never leaving their Atlanta home. After the death of Doug’s mistress, who’s the only bright spot of his already isolated life, he gets the opportunity to go on a business trip to New Orleans. This setting being a perfect representation of the three central characters – where he’ll get to make another world for himself when he meets the teenage stripper (and prostitute) Mallory (Kristen Stewart).

The relationship that’s formed between Doug and Mallory could have been creepy or a sign of major delusions from Doug, but it’s handled with a surprising amount of warmth and understanding. It’s obvious that he sees his lost daughter in Mallory and it’s not played as if he’s trying to replace her, but rather getting a taste of something he once had and cherished: being a father. Mallory represents the perfect (and subconscious) scapegoat for Doug. With his mistress now gone, which also wasn’t done in a sleazy fashion, he ended up being pulled back to Lois. With Mallory, he once again tries to leave the reality that includes Lois and his dead daughter.

Not too long after a steady relationship between Doug and Mallory is made, Lois shows up. Lois comes out of an urge to rekindle their relationship and to indulge in a spontaneous act to feel alive again. Once there, the affection Doug and Lois once had for each other reappears. Mallory both makes them feel like parents again. While the bond that Lois forms with Mallory does feel a bit rushed at first, it’s understandable why she would grow so fond. It’s not as well developed as Doug and Mallory’s relationship but overall, it’s still believable.

Gandolfini and Leo are perfect when it comes to Doug and Mallory. Gandolfini brings back that sweetness and vulnerability he showcased in Where the Wild Things Are, making Doug into one of the most empathetic characters of the year. It’s heartbreaking when you see Doug in a moment of sadness. The same goes for Leo, who carries a somber tone with her throughout most of the film. They’re both tragic figures that have a similarly tragic girl bring a sense of hope to their lives. Mallory is similar to Doug and Mallory, but her emotions are more furious and uncontrollable. Stewart holds her own with Gandolfini and Leo once again proving when she’s outside of the Twilight universe, she’s capable of so much more.

Despite its bleaker moments, Scott has made a film about hope and the ending is only further proof. The wrap-up may feel a bit like a perfectly tied bow, but Scott makes sure to remind us that even though their lives will most likely go on happily, there will still be moments of pain. Welcome to the Rileys is a film about the tragedies and joys of life.


•• Indiewire, Eric Kohn: Kristen Stewart's status as the mopey face of gothic teenage angst in the "Twilight" franchise has easily overpowered the other achievements of her brief career. At age twenty, she has appeared in a number of thematically advanced character studies ("Adventureland" among them), suggesting the antithesis to the murky innuendo and hackneyed drama of the big screen vampire craze. More often than not, the "Twilight" movies downgrade Stewart's talent from credible understatement to a plastic vision of post-adolescent frustration. In "Welcome to the Rileys," the second feature from music video director Jake Scott, Stewart delivers the legitimate version of that archetype with a role that rejects commercial standards: She plays a 16-year-old stripper.

In "Rileys," Stewart's baby-faced appearance is a storytelling device. The disconnect between her adult sensuality and childish looks elicits the sympathies of Doug (James Gandolfini), a depressed business man equally reeling from the death of his daughter in an automobile accident eight years earlier and the more recent passing of his mistress. On a business trip to New Orleans, Doug encounters Mallory (Stewart) in a strip club and follows her into a back room to avoid getting noticed by his peers. Mallory makes a few under-the-table advances toward Doug that reveal her true profession. Like anyone perturbed by the juvenile sexual prowess of the characters in "Twilight," Mallory's potential client recoils at the advancements of an underage girl in her skivvies.

Despite his emotional hang-ups, Doug's latent parenting skills suddenly kick in, providing an excuse to escape his stale marriage to the similarly glum Lois (Melissa Leo). In short order, he crashes at Mallory's deteriorating apartment, pays her daily rent and aims to reform her life. The mission is simultaneously heartwarming and creepy.

Growing increasingly fixated on rectifying Mallory's smutty existence, Doug's true motive involves his attempt to create a ghostly alternative version of his own broken family life. "I feel like I landed on Mars," he says after a few days of his new arrangement, and the setting does have an otherworldly quality compared to the suburban home he left behind.

Needless to say, this isn't just the Kristen Stewart show. A full 180-degrees from Tony Soproano territory, Gandolfini expresses an even greater fragility than the teen his character strives to protect. His face, a frozen scowl, expresses everything his words never can. An early scene finds Doug strolling through the cemetery, drifting from the tombstones of acquaintances and family and unexpectedly coming upon his own name, prematurely placed by his wife. With a subtle shrug, Gandolfini enunciates the movie's ongoing meditation on grief and morality.

Still, Ken Hixon's screenplay gives Stewart the raunchy spotlight. Here, the boundaries of Stewart's onscreen capabilities face the ultimate test. Her explicit one-liners sometimes ruin the narrative spell, dragging the story down to "Showgirls"-level campiness. "God, did somebody open a can of tuna?" she chuckles after yanking a dollar bill out of her crotch while Doug drives her home from turning tricks. Seeing his disdain, she responds, "I bet your balls smell like apple fritters, right?" Stewart can get angry and aggressive, but the moment she goes lewd, something seems fishy -- and it's not the money. These weaker outbursts are counteracted by the believably jaded Mallory rolling her eyes at Doug's paternal support rather than lifting her skirt.

In contrast to her exuberance, "Rileys" sports a contained, somber mood epitomized by Leo's character. When Lois follows Doug's trail and discovers his newfound mission, she immediately comprehends the problem. "That is not our child," she says. So begins the next stage of his unorthodox therapy, in which he reemerges from his fantasy and figures out how to get along with the family that remains alive. The trajectory may sound unoriginal and slight, and it certainly fits that description on paper. But the leisurely pace and assured performances add a welcome layer of naturalism when they could have easily deteriorated into sentimental mush.

Satisfyingly moving if not particularly groundbreaking, "Rileys" was one of two Stewart vehicles at Sundance this year. The other, a loud, messy Joan Jette biopic called "The Runaways," implied Stewart had lost the capacity for serious dramatic roles. "Rileys" counteracted that presumption, proving that the actress does her best work when toning it down, not turning it up.


•• The Huffington Post, Marshall Fine: Small and unpretentious, “Welcome to the Rileys” would be considered a kitchen-sink kind of personal drama, were there a kitchen sink involved. Ultimately, it’s about people forced to talk about what they’re feeling in ways they never have before.

As such, Jake Scott’s nicely self-contained drama is a solid piece of filmmaking, built on an unfussy, honest script and three beautifully understated and brave performances.

While there are blow-ups, misunderstandings and the like, Scott’s script is more about three wounded people seeking a connection they’ve lost, or perhaps have never known. As bearlike and grumpy as Gandolfini has been in other roles, here there’s a delicacy to his character, a wounded quality he can no more articulate than remedy. He captures the sense of a man who needs to nurture another person and who is drawn, almost magnetically, to this damaged girl.

Stewart, by contrast, is all jagged edges and instinct. She’s been on her own so long that she’s practically feral in her relationship to men. She doesn’t know how to respond to Doug’s fatherly concern and tenderness at first, except with suspicion. She’s been abused so long that she is distrustful of anyone who treats her with kindness.

The third leg of this triangle is Leo, as the uptight wife who has walled herself off from her husband over the years out of a sense of guilt over her part in the tragedy. She desperately discovers a new way to reestablish communication with him to salvage their marriage. Leo’s character is almost as skittish as Stewart’s, but has a more natural (and self-aware) nurturing instinct than her husband.

“Welcome to the Rileys” isn’t world-beating cinema. But it’s a beautifully understated story with deep emotion that will capture the receptive viewer with surprising force.


•• Cole Smiley: Rating B-
Director Jake Scott's tale of attempted redemptions works better as an actor's showcase for Melissa Leo, James Gandolfini, and the ever watchable Kristen Stewart than it does as a complete work of cinematic dramaturgy. There's candid poetry here but it lacks the prick and hum of, say, a Jim Carroll poem. Stewart plays Mallory, an underage New Orleans hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold who tries to seduce traveling businessman Doug Riley (Gandolfini) into a lap dance. Away from his agoraphobic wife Lois (Leo), Doug does a sudden turnabout when he chooses to stay in New Orleans indefinitely to help the troubleprone Mallory get on her feet. Doug's and Lois's loss of their own teenaged daughter informs Doug's sincere motivations. Gandolfini once again proves there's nothing he can't do. Melissa Leo brings stoic braveness to her portrayal of a damaged woman finding her footing in an unfamiliar world. But it's Kristen Stewart's rebellious sensuality that fills the recesses of the melancholy narrative.


•• Filmjabber, Erik Samdahl: People trash Kristen Stewart because of Twilight, but it's her little movies - the dramas that have dotted her short career - that remind us just how talented the actress really is. Welcome to the Rileys is just one more of those reminders.

Also starring James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo, Welcome to the Rileys is about a desperate, frustrated husband who, while on a business trip in New Orleans, decides to remain in the city indefinitely - despite being married. While there, he forms an unlikely fatherly relationship with a teenage stripper. Will it destroy his marriage or save it?

There is nothing significantly powerful about Welcome to the Rileys, and yet it's refreshingly unique in a way I just can't describe. A feel-good movie disguised at first as a gritty drama, it features great performances by its three leads and an engrossing story.

Stewart is excellent as the troubled teenager, a girl who masks her innocence and naivety about the world with crudeness and impulsiveness. Stewart embodies her character, locking onto the emotional core of a seemingly unsympathetic character.

Gandolfini will never be seen as anyone but Tony Soprano. It's a sad fate for the man as people tend to forget that he's an actor, and a good one at that. His performance here is also excellent if understated.

More importantly, he and Stewart have amazing chemistry with each other. The tug-and-war relationship between the two is extraordinarily engaging, one that grows and evolves in unpredictable and sometimes grating ways.

As for Leo, she was nominated for an Oscar for the wrong movie. She's received massive attention for The Fighter, but her neurotic, troubled performance in Welcome to the Riley is much more nuanced and emotional.

Welcome to the Rileys is a surprisingly good movie, one that got lost in the shuffle for whatever reason. It isn't inspiring or overpowering, but it works nonetheless.


•• Gordon and the Whale: Rating 3/5
Sometimes, when circumstance meets opportunity at just the right time in someone’s life they might be inclined to do something unexpected…crazy even. The more severe the circumstance, the more probable the action will be all the more drastic when that opportunity presents itself. Often, the act of doing the unexpected leads to adventure: your old life is postponed, situations you would have never found yourself in present themselves, and relationships you never would have formed (and maybe never should have) become profound.

When Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) and Mallory (Kristen Stewart) meet at a seedy strip club just off the French Quarter, Doug has just embarked on the cathartic adventure on which WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is based, but Mallory just sees him as another mark. After Doug escapes to the champagne room, narrowly avoiding a group of generic businessmen from the convention he’s supposed to be attending, he rejects the persistent Mallory who just wants to turn a trick and go back to the stage. She thinks he’s a cop (and I would too, really) and storms out, only to have a chance encounter again with the troubled Mr. Riley at a local diner. Their friendship is fast-forming albeit somewhat peculiar given their differences, but the unlikeliness of these two meeting has an underlying sweetness found in the instant recognition of two damaged souls that have just found one another on an otherwise lonely night.

For most of us, the adventure would have ended there. But Doug Riley and his wife Lois (Melissa Leo) are living with a dark tragedy in their hearts – a tragedy that thankfully most of us will never have to endure. Their fifteen year-old daughter Emily was killed in a severe car crash…and the two understandably haven’t been the same since. Doug is having an affair when we first meet him, and Lois glides around their house like she’s part wife, part ghost. At first glance, their relationship seems perfectly normal given the fact that they’ve been married thirty years, but we slowly learn that the Rileys are suffering, and suffering deeply at that.

So, when Doug meets Mallory in New Orleans and suddenly feels responsible for her, his motivations and rash action are more justified than someone who hadn’t endured such a tragedy had acted just as spontaneously. Doug makes a deal to sell his Plumbing Company, buys some bolt-cutters and cleaning supplies, and sprints over to Mallory’s shady domicile to get the electricity back on and get Mallory’s life back on track.

In the face of being blind-sided by their daughter’s death it’s more believable that Doug would act so indiscriminately, so instead of accusing screenwriter Ken Hixon of shoddy plot development, the audience can buy into the bizarre actions of the characters as long as it’s only the Rileys who act insane. The rash decisions the characters make are just as sudden as the car wreck that killed their daughter Emily.

Continuing with that logic, Lois Riley does indeed act impetuously, and ventures out to surprise Doug in The Big Easy. Lois has become a shut-in that hasn’t been outside for years and is a rock’s throw away from existing in a constant state of catatonia. However, her condition and reason for being a hermit is not made known to the audience until much later in the movie, so her actions and inability to drive a car lead to a disconnect from her character and some incredibly out of place comedic moments as she struggles behind the wheel before heading out to confront her husband in New Orleans. We learn much later why she is more affected by Emily’s death in a heartfelt scene between Lois and Mallory.

Kristen Stewart’s quirks serve her well here, but her ratty appearance and bipolar behavior lend themselves to a drug problem that we never get introduced to. The performance is bold and racy, and Stewart doesn’t seem self conscious at all throughout the film. For a sixteen year-old runaway, Mallory is already close to being irrevocably damaged and Doug and Lois know it and try to take care of her even though the prospect of a healthy nuclear family at this point is highly unlikely. Mallory seems to know it before the Rileys ever do, in fact.

Gandolfini shakes off the iconic mobster he is so well known for – a role so recognizable that even George Reeves (TV’s first Superman) would have sympathized – and creates an entirely different kind of man in Doug: he’s reserved, old-fashioned and positively shattered by his daughter’s sudden death. (Interestingly, Lois Riley is even asked by a flirtatious trucker at one point if she’s married to Superman). It’s his story, and the script and direction never let you forget that.

Director Jake Scott is the son of the legendary Ridley (ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER), but his father’s flourishes and sense of style are no where to be found in RILEYS. Instead, the younger Scott’s camera is static, choosing to only document and frame his characters with no intention of undermining their experience with unnecessary moves and camera tricks that wouldn’t serve the movie; too much emphasis on aesthetic would have only helped Jake Scott secure his next directing gig.

WELCOME TO THE RILEYS doesn’t end with the emotional impact that a tighter script and more dramatic conclusion might have accomplished, but the relationship between Gandolfini and Stewart is highly entertaining in most scenes and the two make a memorable onscreen pair.

The sense of closure the Rileys end up achieving because of their encounter with Mallory is rewarding enough, even if their relationship with Mallory herself is never fully resolved. With that, audiences can walk away from the film feeling like the journey the characters went through was ultimately worthwhile. Who knows, it might even inspire you to go out on an adventure of your own.


•• Yahoo/AP, Jake Coyle: Rating 2,5/4
Kristen Stewart, her sexuality so bound up in vampire-induced abstinence in the "Twilight" films, makes up for lost time in "Welcome to the Rileys."

When we first see her, she's strutting on the catwalk of a New Orleans strip club, and soon thereafter she's pawing James Gandolfini in a "champagne room," explaining her rates in a rush of vulgarity.

How these characters ended up in such a place and where they go from there is the story of "Welcome to the Rileys." It was directed by Jake Scott, a music video director who, despite being the son of action helmer Tony Scott, shows a preference for slow pacing and deliberate seriousness.

The film opens on a burning car, which we later learn was the tragic fate of the 15-year-old daughter to Doug (Gandolfini) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo). Years later, they're still locked in mourning, their daughter's room neatly preserved.

Lois is afraid to even leave their suburban Indianapolis home. Doug has moved on enough to have an affair with a Pancake House waitress (Eisa Davis), but she, too, dies suddenly. He's full of melancholy, spending nights smoking cigarettes in his garage.

He runs a wholesale plumbing business. During a business conference in New Orleans, he tells a colleague: "No surprises, that's my motto," but it's clear he doesn't mean it. He's gritting his teeth, disgusted by his life's stasis.

Doug abandons the conference and lands in the strip bar where he encounters Mallory (Stewart). He's not interested in sex, just a hole to forget himself in. Thinking he's a cop, she turns him out, only to reassess later when she sees him in the diner across the street.

He drives her home, a dilapidated apartment without electricity, and stays the night. He refuses her aggressive entreaties, and learning that she's a 16-year-old runaway, decides to move in and take care of her.

"Sugar daddy," she calls him at first, but Doug quickly takes a plainly paternal role. He teaches her basic things, like how to make a bed, and fines her for cursing. He calls his wife and tells her he might not be coming home again.

The scenes between Doug and Mallory are the best thing in "Welcome to the Rileys," which was written by Ken Hixon. Gandolfini, with a believable and not overstated Southern accent, plays reformer. Stewart, in what may be her best performance yet, warms to his caring while vacillating between hard rage.

She's all elbows, shifty eyes and a nest of hair. Stewart has the habit of biting her bottom lip, a gesture she should be careful not to overuse. But she's a captivating blend of fragility and strength. It's obvious that Doug's attempts to tame her can only partially succeed.

Lois, meanwhile, is awakening. She summons the courage to not only leave the house, but drive to New Orleans. Leo, another fine actor, comes to life with her character, shedding makeup and rigidity.

But Lois also upsets the wonderful dynamic between Doug and Mallory, and the final third of "Welcome to the Rileys" loses its equilibrium.

The fine acting (when will a movie rise to Gandolfini's level like David Chase's "The Sopranos" did?) and Scott's slow, natural build (scored with soft piano by Marc Streitenfeld) hides the film's outlandish underpinnings. But those are laid bare late in the movie, when the save-the-prostitute-with-a-golden-heart cliche treads too obviously.

Scott has the good sense not to bring everything to a neat conclusion. After all, this is really the Rileys' movie, and one about rebirth and letting go of demons.


•• Tribeca Film Festival, Elizabeth Donelli: In some ways, it's a shame that Kristen Stewart is saddled with the ridiculous pressures of the gargantuan Twilight franchise; as Bella Swan, she doesn't have the chance to do more than be a teenager in swooning, epic, vampire love, whereas in other, smaller performances, she has a fascinating intensity. The terrific young actress, a mere twenty years old, takes on a very different role in Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys—as Mallory, a stripper and sometime hooker in New Orleans, she's the tenderly young, wild and bruised heart at the center of this emotional character study, which follows what happens when Mallory meets a grieving married couple (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo), who have a deep heartbreak of their own.


•• I am Rogue, Jimmy O: Rating 5/5
Welcome to the Rileys is filled with heartbreak. Doug and Lois Riley (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) have suffered so much from it that she refuses to leave the house. After the tragic death of their teenage daughter, everything has changed for this couple. Doug has found himself in a secret relationship with a waitress named Vivian (Elsa Davis), one which ends up bringing more pain. They clearer had been happy together at one time, probably very happy. Sadly, they are both in desperate need of each other now more than ever, yet they just can’t connect.

When Doug takes a trip to a convention in New Orleans, he meets a stripper named Mallory (Kristen Stewart). She dances for him and convinces him to get a private show. He decides to go with her mostly due to the fact that some of his peers have shown up to the same strip club. Once upstairs, it is clear that Doug is not interested in sex, at least not from a girl that reminds him of his daughter. Not surprisingly, the two meet again and begin to develop a father/daughter bond. Things get even more complicated when Lois finally gets out of the house and surprises her husband. This is an odd family mix as you can probably tell.

Kristen Stewart is clearly the one to watch here. Since taking on Bella in the Twilight Franchise, it seems she has had to prove herself more than most young actresses. In ‘Rileys’, she still pulls at her hair and has a sly nervousness that she evokes. Yet in nearly all her non-Twilight features, she offers a sort of vulnerability which you just can’t fake. Her relationship with James is very touching and sometimes very real. Once Melissa’s character enters “Mom” mode, there is an even more delicate and heartbreaking mother/daughter bond.

Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart are well and able to carry this story pretty far, and it truly is a success for that reason. The script by Ken Hixon smartly avoids getting into over-sentimentality. Director Jake Scott also covers this dark and slightly disheartening material extremely well. Occasionally the actions and conversations grew a little redundant for the first half of the film, yet things picked up when Melissa Leo’s mother figure arrived.

‘Rileys’ is a sad story. It has humor and it has heart, and it was nice to see a story like this handled with such great care. As far as Mallory is concerned, the progress she makes is mostly believable, but you wonder if she can truly change her life around. The three main actors all share a very surprising connection. Stewart’s Mallory is a girl who is in dire need of someone to care about her, but when someone does, she lashes out at them. This triangle makes for a sad journey that brings a little bit of hope to everyone involved. You are then left to wonder, is hope enough?


•• Sandwich John Films: All three actors are standouts in this film, each playing their role to the fullest, never taking away from the other. Gandolfini, best known as a New Jersey mob-boss in The Sopranos, easily loses that persona as he takes on the role of a sad, lost and gentle man looking for something to love. He’s both kind and stern, evoking sympathy and contempt from the audience.

Leo’s acting while still stuck in her home is wonderfully physical. She uses mannerisms and props to make a lonely, agoraphobic woman both sad and funny at the same time. While in New Orleans, you can feel her loss and her need to care for Mallory.

Stewart, who’s morphed into several different types of characters in the past year, garners strong sympathy from the audience as “Mallory”. Bruised, unkempt, poor and alone, she loses herself in the role and truly becomes a hardened teenager who’s lived too much for her 16 short years. Her character is magnetic, and you want her to both keep her edge and find familial love.

Welcome to the Rileys is an accomplishment in character study and storytelling. The plot, the characters – everything about the story is perfectly thought out and executed. Though the story itself isn’t pleasant, Welcome to the Rileys is a joy to watch. I hope to see more from Scott and writer Ken Hixon in the near future.


•• MovieManMenzel: Rating 8/10
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.


•• The Wrap, Leah Rozen: “Welcome to the Rileys” is a small pleasure with deft performances by two actors trying something different.

This weekend, two highly recognizable faces, James Gandolfini and Krisein Stewart, give muscles they haven’t used in a while a solid workout in “Welcome to the Rileys,” a compelling, character-driven drama.

Whether audiences will want to see either in these roles in the pertinent question.

Gandolfini plays a midwestern average Joe who’s a nice guy and Stewart portrays a hardened, foul-mouthed teenage stripper. Quite a stretch from his conflicted, often brutal Mafia boss in HBO’s long-running “The Sopranos” TV series and her chaste, love-struck (albeit to a vampire) teen in the wildly popular “Twilight” film series.

The case of Gandolfini and Stewart, of course, is different than Roberts, Bullock et al. He has never been a major movie star — he was a supporting actor on screen before finding fame on the small screen — and she was already considered a talented young actress pre-‘Twilight,” having given impressive and wide-ranging performances in “Panic Room” and “Into the Wild.”

In the minds of their fans, though, their images are fixed. He’s Tony Soprano and she’s Bella Swan. Both are long way from the characters they play in “Welcome.”

In the movie, Gandolfini is Doug Riley, a middle-aged businessman in Indiana who owns a successful plumbing parts company. Early on, we learn that the spark has long since gone out of his marriage to Lois (the redoubtable Melissa Leo), who has been a tranquilizer-popping agoraphobic ever since the couple’s teenage daughter died.

When Gandolfini travels to New Orleans for a business convention, he encounters Mallory (Stewart), an under-age stripper who isn’t averse to turning a trick if the rent was due.

Doug makes it his personal mission to help Mallory turn her life around. His interest in her is paternal, not sexual, which she — never having known decency in her short life — has a hard time understanding and accepting. Soon, Lois gathers her courage and heads to New Orleans herself to find out what’s going on and then stays to help.

The movie, directed with a deft touch by Jake Scott (son of director Ridley Scott), is a small-scale pleasure. These are actors who know what they’re doing, do it well and rarely push too hard. The story unfolds at a natural pace and the ending is guardedly upbeat without being excessively saccharine or Hollywood phony.

"Welcome" makes felicitous use of New Orleans, using locations that go way beyond Bourbon Street and capturing the diversity of a city trying to recover in the post-Katrina era. There are scenes set at an upscale business hotel and in the flashy bars and restaurants of the tourist-filled French Quarter, but there are also plenty of scenes in the city's lesser neigbhorhoods, the low-rent areas where Mallory rents a dilapidated apartment, buys takeout meals at a greasy spoon, and does her wash at the laundromat.

It's exactly the kind of movie the big Hollywood studios can't be bothered to make anymore: a small, adult drama in which no one gets shot or dies and there's not a superhero or robot in sight. One doesn't want to oversell "Welcome" — it's well-done without being life-changing — but it's a welcome reminder that if a movie offers a compelling story and characters, sometimes that's plenty.


•• News in film, Jeff Leins: Stewart delivers the sort of gritty, impressive turn she typically brings to her indie roles, and a confident, saucy alternative to her awkward, chaste Twilight lead.


•• The New York Times, Manohla Dargis: Grieving parents have become such a movie staple that the theme is now a demonstrable cliché. Such grief isn’t new in movies, but the preponderance of these stories — recent examples include “The Lovely Bones,” “Creation,” “Antichrist,” “I’ve Loved You So Long” and the forthcoming “Rabbit Hole” — suggests that filmmakers believe that there’s something compelling about the agony of others. To this strange canon add “Welcome to the Rileys,” about a middle-aged couple and the young stripper who comes between them with platform heels and the kind of sad eyes you used to see on the side of milk cartons.

Sorrow suffuses “Welcome to the Rileys,” if somewhat uneasily. Directed by Jake Scott from a screenplay by Ken Hixon, the film turns on the unpredictable emotional storms that rock the neatly ordered world of Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo), a couple nearing 30 years of marriage. The Rileys live in an anonymous Indianapolis house with a tidy green lawn and the carefully preserved bedroom of their dead daughter. A pall hangs over their home, or more truly the film, which telegraphs its ideas — an absence of life, the absence of breath — a touch too loudly. Inside the Rileys’ house there’s a place for everything, and everything is in its place, including Lois’s coiffed hair and pearls.

An unexpected death and a business trip to New Orleans shake things up. Doug travels to the Crescent City, where he lands in a strip club, making small talk with Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a stripper who turns tricks on the side. After some static — he insists he doesn’t want her extracurricular services — the two rapidly bond, and an eye blink later, he’s moved into her rental, an incredible turn that nearly sinks the film. It’s easy to believe that Doug has a heart the size of the Cadillac in his garage, which Lois soon fires up in hot pursuit. But the speed of his decisions feels closer to a script contrivance than to the actions of a man groping through unknown territory, as does Lois’s ensuing transformation.

What keeps the film’s fragile realism intact are actors who can make even small moments count, as when Lois beams at Doug with eager pleasure, or when Doug strokes Mallory’s head as she’s sleeping, a touch that evokes his loss far better than any expository passage. Mallory is and isn’t a child herself, though that truth takes time for Doug to absorb. When he sweeps her up, there’s benevolence in his embrace, but also greed: his grief and, to a lesser extent, Lois’s, feeds the story, but so does their neediness. More simply drawn and opaque, Mallory is one of those down-and-out exotics whose misery allows other, often more comfortably situated, characters to heal. She’s less of a sinner than a saint, and a soothing, beautiful balm.

As she has elsewhere, Ms. Stewart twitches her way through too many scenes, a habit that might become difficult to shake. But she’s an exceptionally appealing screen presence, and she makes Mallory’s confusion — the swings between vulgar braggadocio and clutching vulnerability — reverberant and real. To his credit, Mr. Scott doesn’t bother with the usual red-tinted strip club scenes (note to filmmakers: if you’ve seen one pole dance, you’ve seen them all), though he does point his camera up Mallory’s skirt a few times to give us a gander at Ms. Stewart’s rear. These peekaboos don’t add to anything substantive, though they signal that she has graduated from her role as a professional virgin in the “Twilight” series.

In his book “How Fiction Works,” the critic James Wood includes an observation from George Eliot that might point to one reason that movies are flooded with parental tears. “The greatest benefit we owe to the artist,” Eliot writes, “whether painter, poet or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies.” Art, she continues, extends “our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.” In other words, it allows us to cross the divide between us and others. Maybe filmmakers drawn to stories about grieving parents believe that they can best grab our attention, and extend our sympathies, through the incalculable loss of a child. In an extreme age perhaps only extreme loss will do.


•• NPR, Jeanette Catsoulis: Proof positive that even the most shambling movie may be rescued by fine acting, Welcome to the Rileys is a defiantly cheery title for an achingly bleak story.

At first it seems impossible to contemplate spending more than five minutes with Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) and his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo). Frozen in the pain of losing their 15-year-old daughter eight years previously, the couple survives in a state of suspended animation. By day, Doug manages his plumbing business; one night a week, under cover of a regular poker game, he conducts a longstanding affair with an amiable pancake-house waitress (Eisa Davis). Lois, petrified by agoraphobia, skulks in their Indianapolis home along with their daughter's perfectly preserved bedroom.

Everything changes when Doug heads to New Orleans for a trade show and bumps up against Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a foul-mouthed stripper and occasional prostitute. A runaway of indeterminate years, Mallory lives in a crumbling rental with erratic utilities; when Doug proves uninterested in her sexual talents, she zeroes in on his sympathy and wallet. But Doug is experiencing a powerful dose of transference: He doesn't just want to help this creature, he wants to parent her.

As Doug repairs Mallory's plumbing, pays her parking fines and even cooks for her, Lois decides to overcome her disability and fetch her husband home. For a while, Ken Hixon's screenplay divides into parallel narratives as we follow Doug and Lois' separate but equally redemptive journeys, and it's here that the film gains traction and visual interest. Cinematographer Christopher Soos works best with stillness, his interior shots of the Rileys' gloomy home conveying a setting steeped in grief and, we later learn, guilt. A scene where Lois gets her hair done in the living room beautifully evokes the stasis of the woman, her marriage and her entire life.

A creaky, sometimes forced drama that burrows under your skin if you let it, Welcome to the Rileys lurches along like Lois' car as she tries to exit her garage for the first time in years. Uplifting only in the most glancing way, it allows its emotional complexities to accumulate slowly, one conversation and image at a time. In an especially lovely scene, Lois wanders across the moonlit lawn of a roadside motel, ethereal in her white nightdress, while the camera draws up and back as though in awe of her newfound bravery.

Using atmospheric French Quarter locations, director Jake Scott brings life to a slow-moving tale that leans precariously on its three stars. Leo is as magnificent as always, but it's Gandolfini, drifting in and out of a variety of accents, who glues the film together. Effortlessly projecting an emotional need that's never creepy, he gives Doug's growing connection with Mallory a touching authenticity. Lois may buy the girl underwear and treat her "female problems," but Doug changes her life.

As for Stewart, her nuanced and mature grasp of this broken character is impressive. But after pouting and brooding through the Twilight franchise, we can only hope her next project gives her some reason to smile.


•• The Boston Herald, James Verniere: What makes "Welcome to the Rileys" watchable is the cast.

Stewart, who was terrific earlier this year in the neglected Joan Jett biopic “The Runaways,” again goes out on a limb, stretching beyond Bella’s cooing, kvetching teen angel. She first appeared on the radar as the daughter in David Fincher’s “Panic Room” (2002), and is convincing as a girl who has been forced by biology and circumstance to live by her wiles, however recklessly. Stewart’s desire to grow as an artist is enough to make you shout: Go team Kristen!


•• IndieWire, Gabe Toro: Rating B
PUNCH. The remains of a car burn in the darkness. Whomever was present for such a disaster no longer breathes air. PUNCH. A black screen, the title “Welcome To The Rileys” proudly displayed at the center of the screen. PUNCH. The visage of a burly man smoking a cigarette comes into frame. While the location is a suburban backyard, the darkness seems to swallow this man’s face, who entirely has the camera’s attention. In the darkness, smoke pouring out of his mouth, he looks like a caged beast, frustrated by being marginalized in captivity.

Those opening moments in “Welcome To The Rileys” could have been seen in any number of seventies-era character pieces in both their confrontational dissonance and oppressive darkness. Without a single word of dialogue being spoken, we know a great tragedy has befallen our characters. And we know that this man, a face unevenly stapled to a neck, we know that our characters have purposely chosen to remain in the shadow of this disaster.

As the story becomes clearer, we learn that the Rileys have hidden behind their grief. It was their daughter who passed on in the terrible wreck, lost to them at the age of fifteen. Behind the picket fences of suburbia, husband and wife Doug and Lois (James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo) try to maintain some semblance of reality - they aren’t rebuilding, merely still in a state of shock. The shock has long given way to an almost perverse sort of comfort. He retreats to the garage to smoke his cigarettes. She receives manicures in her own living room. As the breadwinner, he holds the house together from the outside. She maintains the inside, meticulously assuring everything is in its right place.

When Doug makes a business trip from their Midwest home into New Orleans, an unexpected series of events leads him to a strip club, where he meets Mallory. Sullen, dead-eyed, and gamine, the young stripper barks sexual profanities to his face in an effort to excite, when it’s clear from slight hints in her body language she would rather be miles away. It’s not exactly the shock of the year to imagine Kristen Stewart in this role, though she manages to capture something uniquely upsetting about how innocence can be corrupted before youth has set in.

When they meet again, Doug, who sees something intriguing in this beaten-down sixteen year old runaway and develops certain feelings for her. But while she expects a $10 quickie, he is looking for a decidedly different fix. It’s not long before he is staying in New Orleans, helping her clean out her house and maintain hygiene and cleanliness around Mallory’s dingy location. A call to his wife is a painful admission that he can’t share that particular life with her anymore. He knows at home that their tombstone awaits, lacking only a departure date.

This couple is not defeated, of course: unaware of the reasons to her husband’s departure, she pursues him all the way to New Orleans. It’s clear she hasn’t been in a car since the incident, so her trip takes more than a few detours. Melissa Leo fills said detours with unexpected grace notes. In a performance of uncommon warmth, Leo embodies a character with frail physicality, but ever-strengthening spirit. The open road is at once alien to her, and yet also a welcome challenge, a respite from the struggle with memories that has silenced every evening dinner, muted every television program, and sullied all social appearances the Rileys have participated in.

“Welcome To The Rileys” is the second feature from director Jake Scott. He shares none of the grandiosity of his father Ridley, nor the pop culture savvy of uncle Tony. The youngest Scott instead showcases an interest in the chasms between people who love each other, when they can’t, or don’t know how to, articulate the feelings they have for each other. In that first hour, not a single moment of “Rileys” takes a turn you’d expect it with very minor exceptions, as Scott showcases himself as someone willing to let characterizations and actions speak for themselves. The pacing is glacial at times, but with excellent performances from Leo, Stewart, and Gandolfini (the former Tony Soprano, now wearing Red State simplicity over a powerfully fractured heart) allow each moment to feel real, lived-in, understandable.

The momentum doesn’t last. As soon as the permutation of the three characters under one roof occurs, the film slows to a halt to provide singular therapy sessions for each one of them. The difficult questions each of them must face becomes sensible indie-film resolution. The meeting of all three characters suddenly limits the possible story outcomes, but Scott also limits the characterization to the point where it’s all plot machinations, and these very human characters no longer control their own destiny. In making each character a surrogate for someone else in their lives, Scott’s central metaphor traffics too close to obviousness. Painted into a corner, the story has no choice but to resolve itself aimlessly.

Scott’s second directorial effort, however, definitely marks the filmmaker as someone to watch. Tougher, more sympathetic performances haven’t been seen yet from these three: Stewart in particular defies expectations in an uneasy role. Her performance suggests a spirit in transit that the film wants to pigeonhole into little-girl-lost clichés, and Stewart gamely follows suit in an arc that never seems believable. But it’s the onscreen union of Leo and Gandolfini that resonates the deepest. Here are two people, struck by tragedy, finally emerging from a years-long shadow, more in love than ever before, in spite of some serious life changes. In their eyes, now everything seems unconventional.


•• NJ.com, Stephen Whitty: Gandolfini and Stewart make an unlikely pair in drama.

Did you ever wonder what “Taxi Driver”; would have been like if Travis actually had been a nice, married, middle-aged Midwesterner with a wholesale plumbing-supplies business?

Oh, and also, if he didn’t go off the rails at the end and blow away a whole East Village tenement full of pimps and gangsters? But just cleaned Iris’ apartment, and introduced her to his wife?

No. And neither have I.

But I wonder if Ken Hixon, the screenwriter of “Welcome to the Rileys,”; has. Because his story is about just such a man who, on a business trip to New Orleans, decides to rescue an underage prostitute.

Rescue her? Heck, he even moves in with her –— and heroically unclogs her “Trainspotting”-quality toilet — without asking for as much as a kiss. She is, naturally, suspicious.

You should be too.

Not that this plumber — as played, with a cornpone accent, by James Gandolfini — is up to something nasty. (He honestly doesn’t want to do Kristen Stewart, you see. He just wants to do her laundry.) It’s just that none of these people feels remotely human.

The performers try hard. Gandolfini puts on that accent (a mistake — he’s supposed to be from Indiana, not Alabama) and avoids the seething anger he does so well. Ah reckon ah wouldn’t rightly take him as a Southerner – but as a dull Main Street businessman, he convinces.

And Kristen Stewart — well, yes, once again she’s got a bad case of the mopes. But the flashes of rage convince. And physically — bruised, broken-out, filthy — she does everything she can to avoid any Hollywood touches. (Her fingernails alone look like 10 staph infections.)

Best is the fabulous Melissa Leo as Gandolfini’s wife. Of all the characters, hers is the one who goes through the most changes — and she takes us on a journey from neurotic shut-in to slowly blossoming, nurturing woman.

But as aptly as she displayed that metamorphosis, I didn’t really believe it — any more than I believed that Gandolfini only felt the purest of paternal affections for the occasionally bottomless Stewart, or that Stewart wouldn’t have stolen his credit cards the first chance she got.

Director Jake Scott here gets New Orleans all right; you can almost feel the humidity in some of the shots. The humanity though — that escapes him, as instead he chases after melodrama and actor-ish “moments.”

Which is why “Welcome to the Rileys” is the kind of movie performers often hail as a “labor of love.”

And audiences just find labored.


•• The Wall Street Journal, Joe: While "Welcome to the Rileys" was wending its way through a wearisome tale of depression and redemption, I kept thinking about telegraphy. Why do we still talk about telegraphing a punch when no one uses telegraphs any more? Why not email punches, or text them? Be that as it may, this dreary drama telegraphs every punch, emotion and plot point with a dedication that would have done the old Western Union proud.

James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are Doug and Lois Riley, a couple living a twilight life of grief and regret in a suburb of Indianapolis, where Lois's agoraphobia keeps her from leaving the house and Doug speaks, for unspecified reasons, in a Southern accent; maybe it's to telegraph a trip he'll soon take to a plumbing convention in New Orleans. The telegraphy begins in earnest when he visits the grave of their teenage daughter, who died in a car crash, and discovers that Lois has had her own name and his added to the headstone, with death dates still to be filled in. On returning to the house, Doug tells Lois helpfully, and predictively: "I'm not dead and you're not dead! We're still alive!"

He proves it for himself during the course of the convention by picking up Mallory, an underage hooker played by Kristen Stewart. Since she represents the daughter Doug has lost, he comes to care for her, sets out to rehabilitate her and, to his credit and our relief, plumbs the shallows of her life platonically. Yet there are three things wrong with this part of the picture. Doug's efforts on Mallory's behalf may be heroic—they include renovating her rat trap of a house—but they're not very interesting. Mallory is marginally interesting at best; the harsh reality is that she's an infantile slut. And Ms. Stewart's performance is unsurprising. She's a talented young actress—her work in "Into the Wild" demonstrated that—and a spectacularly successful one by virtue of the "Twilight" vampire sagas. But she sometimes mumbles and often rushes her lines; one hopes that success hasn't cut her off from the direction that almost every young actor needs.

What life can be found in the film, which was directed by Jake Scott and written by Ken Hixon, flows from Ms. Leo. Lois eventually gets out of the house, of course. She does so in a sudden burst of comedy that's more intrusion than relief, but Ms. Leo finds a way to be affecting in spite of it all. It's as if her later scenes had been lifted from another movie. An enjoyable one.


•• Online Movies Hut, Michael: One of the highly commendable factors to be mentioned in Welcome to the Rileys movie review should be the brilliant performances done by main three leading stars.

The promising factor in the movie is Kristen Stewart who takes a break from her well known role as the vampire sweetheart to become a troubled young woman. As Mallory Stewart plays a major role in Welcome to the Rileys since it is her character that generated much of the drama in the movie. She comes with an electrifying performance that shows her true potential and this will be a landmark in her career.

Kristen Stewart had gone on to prove that she can go beyond character of Bella Swan because her role as a troubled teenager has been rather convincing.

•• The New York Post, Lou Lumenick: Audiences tend to avoid Kristen Stewart’s non- “Twilight” movies like vampires fleeing daylight. Believe me, it’s their loss.

“Welcome to the Rileys,” her latest, is another gritty indie drama from Sundance that will likely disappear as quickly as the underappreciated “The Yellow Handkerchief” and “The Runaways” earlier this year.

Which is a shame, because Stewart’s intense, courageous performance as a 16-year-old New Orleans prostitute is really something special.


James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Stewart are so inspired, I cared intensely about a situation that in lesser hands would have amounted to just another made-for-TV movie.

Finally leaving the ghost of Tony Soprano behind, Gandolfini plays Doug, a prosperous plumbing-supply company owner from Michigan who encounters a runaway who calls herself Mallory (Stewart) at a strip club in the Big Easy.

When she comes on to Doug, he not only declines but becomes downright paternal — his own teenage daughter was killed in a car crash three years earlier. Doug cancels plans to return home and moves into the hovel where Mallory lives and sets about renovating the place and her life.

I know, I know — it sounds clichéd. But it doesn’t play out that way, thanks to realistic performances and a script by Ken Hixon that’s long on surprises and blessedly free of pat answers.

Even as Doug is discovering more and more unsavory aspects of Mallory’s life — and getting her out of an escalating series of jams — Doug’s wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), is becoming concerned about his prolonged absence.

Though she’s apparently never left the house since their own daughter’s death, Lois sets out by car to find out exactly what’s precipitated her husband’s midlife crisis.

Leo (an Oscar nominee for “Frozen River”) is wonderful as a wounded woman cautiously re-entering life, and Gandolfini is totally convincing in a non-homicidal role, even if his accent occasionally wanders over much of the eastern United States.

Actors are often tempted to chew scenery in roles like these, so credit must be given to director Jake Scott — son of Ridley and nephew of Tony, himself better-known for helming music videos — who also finds ways of holding your interest over nearly two hours of running time.

“Welcome to the Rileys” belongs first and foremost to Stewart, who does haunting, awards-caliber work as Mallory — it’s very easy to forget you’re watching an actress playing this drug-addled, desperate, heartbreaking mess of a runaway.


•• Flick Filosopher, MaryAnn Johanson: Kristen Stewart is a New Orleans stripper and prostitute. She does not have a heart of gold. That belongs to James Gandolfini, who meets her uncute when he’s in town for a business convention and decides to not return home to whatever Midwestern dullness he’s from in order to take care of her. Not in a sugar-daddy way: in a grieving-daddy way. See, he lost his teenaged daughter a few years ago, and is obviously feeling a lack of an outlet for his paternal instincts. Meanwhile, his wife, Melissa Leo — a neurotic who refuses to leave the house, even to get the mail, but dresses up like she’s going somewhere nice anyway just to hang around — works up the nerve to get in the car and head South chasing after him…

The performances all around are great: Leo (Everybody’s Fine) in particular is a goddess, as always, breathing wretched life into a character that could have been a joke; Stewart proves she’s got real chops, as she did with The Runaways, when she’s got something meatier than a vampire romance to, um, sink her teeth into; and Gandolfini (Where the Wild Things Are) exhibits more soul than we’ve seen from him before. Still: while the script, by Ken Hixon (City by the Sea) is sensitive and features some experiences of women typically unseen onscreen — there’s some nice near-mother-daughter interactions between Leo and Stewart — and director Jake Scott (British cult favorite Plunkett & Macleane) doesn’t have an exploitive eye, this is yet another wearyingly familiar story about what women can and should do for men, not about the woman themselves. And it doesn’t offer anything particularly new and insightful about ground that has been exhaustively covered previously.


•• Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: "Welcome to the Rileys," starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo as three storm-tossed souls, is like a quiet conversation about despair and hope. Ordinary people trying to deal with the kind of aching loss that's settled deep in the bones.

This flawed yet promising film from music video and commercial director Jake Scott (dad is Ridley, uncle is Tony) comes with no show, no razzle-dazzle — just Doug and Lois Riley (Gandolfini and Leo), eight years into their grief over the death of their teenage daughter in a car accident.

Working from a script by Ken Hixon, who favors small towns and broken lives ("City by the Sea" and "Inventing the Abbotts" are his best-known films), the story begins in a tidy middle-class neighborhood in Indianapolis. In the years since their daughter's death, Doug and Lois have become careful with their lives, Lois so locked down she's unable to leave the house. Escape for Doug comes in the form of a New Orleans plumbing convention and salvation from a bruised young stripper named Mallory (Stewart).

The narrative is driven by that old saw that the way to heal your own pain is to help someone else. That's easier said than done, of course, and much of the pleasure of the film is watching Gandolfini and Stewart navigate a minefield pocked with stopped toilets, no electricity, arrests and even angry johns.

Stewart, who was cast in the film before the "Twilight" tsunami hit, continues to gravitate to characters that the world has roughed up, with Mallory a few shades darker than the actress' well-crafted young Joan Jett in "The Runaways" earlier this year. She just gets better at bringing a naked vulnerability to her performances. Here it's like watching a slide show of anger, pain, innocence, outrage and mischief play across her face.

Gandolfini, in his own way, has that same ability to wear his heart on his sleeve, and Doug's discomfort when the barely clad Mallory tries to seduce him with a lap dance is priceless. There are no strains of Tony Soprano, no cocky arrogance, just a good guy trying to do the best he can.

Their tentative father-daughter relationship unfolds in a down-market side of New Orleans, more ugly than anything else and as good a setting as any to figure out whether there is anything about these lives worth reclaiming. Cinematographer Chris Soos, also from the music video and commercial world with a couple of films now under his belt, uses space and light to set the mood as the story moves between the grime of the city and the pristine wasteland of the Rileys' suburban life. He is better with darker moods, and the film's opening frames of Gandolfini's face in heavy shadows and cigarette smoke are especially nice.

Like the lives examined here, the film doesn't always work. As small scale and intimate as it is, sometimes three's a crowd, and in trying to allow Leo time to put some meat on Lois' bones, the film loses balance. Scott is still too tentative with his actors and hampered by a script that keeps trying to fix too many of Mallory's problems with new clothes and clean sheets. Fortunately Stewart seems to thrive in water over her head, and when she pulls Gandolfini in with her the movie jells. It makes you wish the filmmaker had left them in the deep end longer.


•• Softpedia, Elena Gorgan: Much has been said about “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart and whether she can do more acting than just her hallow-eyed, absent-minded impression of Bella. “Welcome to the Rileys,” her latest film, should answer all those questions.

The star, whom many stars identify with the mortal girl in the immensely successful “Twilight” movie franchise, caught between the affections of a vampire and a werewolf, takes on an entirely different character in “Rileys.”

The film, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, also stars James Gandolfini and deals with the story of a “working girl” slash exotic dancer (Kristen) who is “adopted” by grieving parents the Rileys.Though the film is receiving mixed to negative reviews, primarily because of how certain elements in the plot are dealt with and because of Jake Scott’s direction, the actors in it are getting mostly praising reviews.

Gandolfini’s accent is a little too much to take, most critics seem to agree, as the LA Times sums up, but his presence is very strong onscreen – and, most importantly, very convincing.

Stewart also does her best, thus managing to convince even the most skeptic of critics that there’s more to her acting skills than what she lets show in “Twilight.”

She has depth and, above all, she has that special ability to go to some deep, dark place inside of her (that no one even knew existed) and bring out the tormented little girl who has to sell herself to survive.


•• Shockya, Karen Benardello: It’s often difficult for people to venture into territories unknown for them. But if they try hard enough, they’ll surprise themselves and those who know them, and come out having accomplished something they never thought they could. This is certainly the case for the characters, the actors and the director of the new independent film ‘Welcome to the Rileys.’

The movie, which debuted at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, follows Doug Riley (played by James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (portrayed by Melissa Leo) as they continue to try to deal with the death of their 15-year-old daughter Emily eight years after she died. After Vivian (played by Eisa Davis), a waitress Doug was having an affair with to cope with Emily’s death, dies suddenly of a heart attack, he travels to New Orleans on a business trip. He decides to stay there even after his convention is over, as he’s stricken a relationship with a 16-year-old runaway stripper, Mallory (portrayed by Kristen Stewart), who reminds him of Emily.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ starts off to a slow start, as it just shows Doug and Lois struggling to keep their nearly 30-year marriage afloat, despite the pain they are both feeling. Nothing is revealed about what caused the strain on the relationship, and viewers are left questioning why they should care about these two characters. It isn’t until Doug travels to New Orleans, and he and Lois are separated, that the film’s momentum picks up, and viewers get to see who they really are. Both Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly show how hurt their respective characters were when they were several states apart.

Director Jake Scott, who is the son of famed director and producer of Ridley Scott and the nephew of director Tony Scott, proved he is just as good as his family members in the movie business by casting Gandolfini, Leo and Stewart. While Gandolfini and Leo both were able to portray grief-stricken parents, unable to deal with letting the memory of their daughter go, Stewart proves that she’s at her best in smaller, independent movies. Much like her other independent drama released this year, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief,’ Stewart proves she can truly develop a role that isn’t based on a popular book character, like Bella from ‘The Twilight Saga,’ and expectations to play her a certain way. She made Mallory relatable by showing her pain of being out on her own, struggling to survive.

While ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ was focused on the relationships between Doug and Lois and Doug and Mallory and on their character development, Gandolfini and Stewart’s chemistry was what really drove the story. Gandolfini was able to completely transform Doug’s character throughout the 110-minute film, proving he could truly care about another person again, instead of just wallowing in his own misery. Meanwhile, Stewart initially portrayed Mallory as needing to sleep with men to validate her self-worth, but after developing a relationship with Doug, she realized there are other ways she can get people to like her.

The only downfall of the movie was that Doug and Lois never really seemed to get truly comfortable with each other. While Gandolfini and Leo were able to truly connect to their characters, they never truly seemed to connect with each other. Since their marriage is the only other main relationship in the story, besides Doug and Mallory’s, it seemed logical that their deposition towards each other would improve after they learned to deal with their grief, but it seemed to stay the same.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ has a great script from screenwriter Ken Hixon, and will surely push Scott to the forefront of the movie directing world. Known mostly for directing music videos, Scott was able to prove with his second movie that he knows how to create and build characters and their relationships with others. He also proved that he knows how to pick the right cast, as both Ganolfini and Stewart perfected roles that are out of their comfort zones. Though only scheduled for a limited theatrical release, ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ will surely surprise and please many people who see it.


•• Awards Circuit, Joey Magidson: Despite its contrived nature, ‘Welcome to the Rileys’ is a real winner for me, a subtly engrossing drama that features 3 strong central performances (two of which are especially great). Director Jake Scott has taken writer Ken Hixon’s strong but flawed script and fashioned something great out of it. He’s the rare filmmaker that can take a less than sturdy foundation (the contrivances that get the major plot points going…and yes I’m being vague about them in the hopes that you’ll just go see the film and find out for yourself) and build upon it and make a successful movie. The film isn’t perfect, but I was very surprised at how much I liked it, considering how little patience I usually have for flicks that take the easy script routes that this one does. Chalk it up to the strengths of the film outweighing the weaknesses.

Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (Melissa Leo) seem to be perpetually mourning the death of their teenage daughter. Both are eternally glum and wander around in a haze. Doug has taken to a short lived affair with a waitress, while Lois has been unable to leave her house, even to get the mail. When Doug leaves for a business trip to a convention in New Orleans, the last thing he expects is to randomly wind up in a dingy strip club. However, once there, he ends up in a private room with Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a dancer and prostitute who he’s inexplicable drawn to save. Slowly they form a bond, and before you know it, he’s moved in, fixed up her place, and told his wife he’s staying there. This gets Lois to finally leave her home to reunite with Doug, but when she finds out why he’s there, things don’t go smoothly. They may be healing themselves by caring for Mallory, but Mallory is the most damaged of the trio, and perhaps she doesn’t want to be saved. How these three flawed and stubborn individuals deal with their desires to both become a family of sorts and also to revert back to the ways of the past form the core of the movie’s plot.

Both James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart give nomination worthy performances in the flick. Gandolfini takes away any hint of menace that he might have had in previous roles to portray an average guy drawn to do something extraordinary. He may have the financial means to help more than most, but he also has the heart to do so.

Gandolfini makes Doug an incredibly subtle and heartbreaking character. He’s the lead of the movie, and you always want him on the screen, especially when Doug and Mallory are together (not romantically, just in a father-daughter type of way). Stewart is just as good, and her foul mouthed and overtly sexual role should prove without a shadow of a doubt that she’s more than just Bella Swan. Some of her tics that annoy her critics are still here (I’m not one of them, as I adored her in ‘Adventureland’ last year), but they make sense for this character. She breaks your heart on more than one occasion, but Stewart is so convincing that you never quite lose the sense that she’s a dangerous person. Some of the plot points for her character are standard issue stripper/hooker points, but Stewart sidesteps the dangers inherent in those and creates an incredibly memorable portrait of a wayward youth. A half step down, but still doing very fine work is Melissa Leo. Her character is the least developed of the trio, but she does a lot with a little. Leo is able to make the minutia of Lois’s life not become a bore to us. She’s got the least screen time of the three, but she does her best to make up for it. There are also supporting roles for Ally Sheedy, Eisa Davis, Joe Chrest, and Tiffany Coty (among others), but it’s the aforementioned three that make this movie so good.

Jake Scott (son of Ridley) moves from music videos to features here, and he clearly has a future in cinema. He keeps the pace of the film at the right measure, never too brisk, but never too languid. He directs actors incredibly, and his visuals are arresting but non intrusive. Scott is definitely someone who could be a big name one day, perhaps on par with his father and uncle Tony. His writer Ken Hixon is more of a mixed bag though. Hixon manipulates the characters to start off on their journeys in ways that ring false (as one small example, there’s no reason for Doug to go to the club where Mallory works except that the script says so), but the phoniness of that is partially negated by the strength of some of the character moments and dialogue. Most of the film is excellent, but the script is only fair.

‘Welcome to the Rileys’ features 4 star acting, 3 and a half star directing, but only 2 and a half star writing. This sometimes is a flawed mix that torpedoes a movie, but this flick rises above all that to be a solid 3 and a half star movie on its own accord. The ending especially is proper for what has come before it, and makes up for some of the plot shortcomings in the first two acts. I was blown away by some of the acting in this film, and I think you’ll find it to be exceptionally strong as well. This is a deliberate piece of cinema, so know that, but it’s a rewarding experience overall.


•• Fused Film, Michael Merlob: Kristen’s Stewart’s portrayal of girl yearning for guidance in spite of her poor lifestyle choices is honest and frank.


•• Movie Shark Deblore, Debbie Lynn Elias: Although completed in 2008, it wasn’t until after Sundance 2010 and a tour on the festival circuit that Jake Scott’s WELCOME TO THE RILEYS found a distribution home and will now be welcomed into theatres around the country. A little gem of a film that’s faceted on many levels but still with a few rough edges, WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is an emotionally complex character study of a family in crisis, with an interesting introspective story, visually stimulating look and performances that are at times, off the charts excellent.

Lois and Doug look like your average upper middle class, Midwestern couple. Lois is slender, immaculately groomed and coifed and wears her June Cleaver pearls everyday while puttering around the family home. Her hairdresser even comes to the house. Furnishings in the home reflect a woman of quality and taste. She appears to want for nothing, yet always looks sad and terse. Doug, on the other hand, looks like your average blue collar Joe. A bit portly, khaki Dockers and plaid cotton button down shirts with pens and other assorted items in the shirt pocket are his daily dress. A sport coat gets tossed on for those really important days. Starting out in life as a plumber, he now owns a chain of plumbing stores, but has retained his work ethic, routine and simple style. He hides in his workroom in the garage when he wants a cigarette and one night a week he gets together with the boys for a friendly game of poker. After poker, for at least the past four years, he goes to the local waffle house. He sits in the same booth, is waited on by the same waitress – Vivian, tells the same stories, orders the same food, and then goes home with Vivian. A kindly nice woman, she has been Joe’s mistress for some time, filling a cavernous emotional void that exists between Doug and Lois.

Eight years ago, Doug and Lois lost their teenaged daughter in a car accident. Ever since, Lois has been crippled with agoraphobia, shutting herself away in the house, never even stepping out the door. Doug, himself suffering the emotional scars of his daughter’s death, has forced himself to go on, to roll up his sleeves and move on, try and fix his broken heart and to live life (thus his mistress), but he has been further damaged by Lois’ self-imposed hibernation and indifference to him.

Heading off to New Orleans for a plumbing convention, Doug has every intention of bringing Vivian with him but is then is dealt another emotional blow. Showing up at the waffle house for his usual night of food and frolic, and to bring Vivian an early birthday present she can use on the trip, he learns that Vivian is dead. Lost and alone, Doug begs Lois to join him, but to no avail. So he does what he always does. He puts one foot in front of the other and although going through the motions, is more emotionally lost than ever; that is until he gets to the Big Easy and meets Mallory.

A young runaway now working as a stripper and hooker, Mallory has had no easy life. She is as fragile and broken as Doug, something with which he quickly connects; not to mention the fact she strongly resembles his deceased daughter. Seeing Mallory as something he can “fix”, rather than do what most guys would do in his situation, he embraces her with a fatherly love, taking her under his wing, healing himself and hopefully her, as well. But the relationship also sparks some rash decisions by Doug that have a domino effect, not the least of which is spurring Lois to try to save both her marriage and herself. What develops is nothing short of miraculous.

I can think of no one who can bring the emotional and physical gravitas to the role of Doug but for James Gandolfini. He has a strength and power, balanced with a teddy bearish comfort and vulnerability that is embraceable. He makes you feel for Doug; feel his pain, his losses – losses that just keep on coming. You ache with him. On the flip side, he also draws you into Doug’s joyous moments. You smile with him. Gandolfini brings a sense of pride and dignity to Doug that is almost touchable it’s so real. And his relationship with Kristen Stewart is brilliant. Seeing them on screen together, you find yourself believing this burly teddy bear of a man would be a great father – strict, but loving and kind. Surprisingly, where Gandolfini does falter is with his Indiana accent, which is intermittent at best.

If you have seen “The Yellow Handkerchief”, you have seen Kristen Stewart at her best – multi-faceted and textured, with emotional nuances one would never suspect she possessed had you only seen her in the “Twilight” movies. WELCOME TO THE RILEYS was lensed after filming of “Twilight” but before Stewart became a “star” and before “The Yellow Handkerchief.” It is evident that as Mallory, Stewart’s talents grow, serving as a stepping stone to her future work. You can see the transition and maturity of her performance from “Twilight” to “Handkerchief” through this performance as Mallory. With a defiant childlike innocence, like Gandolfini, Stewart also brings this vulnerability and emotional confusion to the part that not only serves as an interactive character catalyst but strengthens her bond with Gandolfini’s Doug. Watching Stewart, you feel her sense of fear – fear of life, fear of her past, fear of her future – all of which draws you deeper into the character. At the end of the day, you actually see that Stewart can act and steps it up when playing against superlative seasoned performers.

Melissa Leo gives one of her most textured and evocative performances as Lois. With a quiet awkward, uncomfortableness, midway in the film Lois blossoms with the exuberance of youth, like a kid in a candy store or ripping open presents on Christmas morning. Leo radiates joy and lightness and then slowly settles into a confident persona that you believe is how she would be had life not dealt her a bad deck of cards. Leo’s is perhaps the most fascinating and transformative performance of the group.

Written by Ken Hixon, WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is intriguing to watch unfold. Although cliched to an extent and often uneven and at times, unsettling in the pacing and story, the relationships and interpretations of the human condition are propelled by compelling performances that overcome the film’s pitfalls. With the relationship between Doug and Mallory at the heart of the film, the scenes between Gandolfini and Stewart are so powerful, it is impossible to turn away. You want to see what develops, how each impacts the other. Enjoyable is Hixon’s insertion of cute comedic elements that are fed by the traits of Doug’s character. It’s easy to see any father of his generation toying with his daughter over use of foul language or playing “dumb” with words or situations, pushing her to think and come out of her own closed shell. Very endearing.


•• Character Approved, Bags Hooper: Welcome to the Rileys tells the dramatic story of a couple who have become emotionally separated after the tragic death of their teenage daughter. Now, eight years later, Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo) Riley are at a crossroads in their relationship. Doug goes on a business trip to New Orleans and meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a seventeen-year old runaway. The two begin to develop a platonic bond that is both unsettling and heartfelt.

Stewart is best known for her role as Bella Swan in the Twilight franchise. While this series is wildly popular, it doesn’t really showcase the range Stewart has an an actor. Her role as a runaway in Welcome to the Rileys tests her prowess, and it’s an overwhelming success. As Mallory, she expresses the pain and anguish of living a harsh life, while also giving voice to an orphan that subconsciously and desperately wants a family.

Gandolfini shakes off his tough-guy Sopranos legacy, playing the role of a timid suburban father who just wants a daughter to love. He gives Stewart an excellent sparring partner to play off of, while these two unwittingly struggle to fill the void left from lost family members. They swap roles of parent and child as the film progresses, each helping the other to grow while still learning life lessons.

Stewart and Gandolfini are Character Approved for their on-camera chemistry. This is easily the most powerful role Stewart has played on film and we’re looking out for more from this talented actor.



•• Slackerwood, Don Clinchy: I have some friendly career advice for Kristen Stewart: Kristen, it's time to invest the fortune you made from the Twilight movies (for investment advice, consult a financial advisor -- not a film critic) and refuse all future roles in Hollywood schlockbusters, especially those marketed to tweenage girls. You're rich. You're famous. So, now you can prove your acting bona fides in grown-up films like Welcome to the Rileys.

Seriously, Kristen. I know Twilight's Edward Cullen is all sensitive and romantic and whatnot. But when you can so convincingly inhabit the role of a bitter teenage runaway turning tricks in a dank New Orleans strip club, you really don't need ol' Eddie Wussyfangs anymore. You have the acting chops to do much more, and it's time to move on.

Welcome to the Rileys is the leisurely, low-key story of the titular and terribly sad Riley family. Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) is an Indianapolis plumbing supply business owner who, along with his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), lives a half-empty life since the couple's daughter was killed eight years earlier. The only spark in Doug's life is his ongoing affair with a waitress. When the affair ends tragically, Doug is left with little more than his crumbling marriage and soulless job. Lois has her own set of seemingly intractable problems; withdrawn and fearful since her daughter's death, she rarely ventures beyond her front door. Even walking to the mailbox is more than she can bear.

So, it's little surprise that while on a business trip to New Orleans, a bored and aimless Doug finds himself in a seedy strip club chatting with Mallory (Stewart), a hard-living, underage stripper with a fake ID and a battered worldview. The two part ways angrily after a misunderstanding in one of the club's private rooms. But they cross paths later that night in a restaurant, where they begin a very unlikely friendship. Doug ends up spending the night in Mallory's decaying rental house, but there is no sex; he sees her as a daughter figure, not a prostitute.

At this point, the story becomes a bit unbelievable. Doug decides to stay in New Orleans and help Mallory, becoming a sort of roommate, handyman and sugar daddy with entirely honorable intentions. Meanwhile, Lois – after a perplexing phone call from Doug explaining he would be gone until further notice – somehow musters the courage to drive to New Orleans. Her road trip is torturous, and of course she's less than pleased when Doug introduces her to his sexy new teenage roommate. But as she gets to know Mallory, she begins to understand her angst-ridden husband's motivations and becomes the parentless girl's surrogate mom, joining Doug on a rather misguided mission to liberate Mallory from the dark and dangerous corners of New Orleans.

Yes, the idea behind Welcome to the Rileys is highly farfetched. Why would an affluent and well established (albeit dysfunctional) Midwestern couple want to nurture a 16-year-old New Orleans prostitute, even if she reminds them of their long-dead daughter? But despite its unlikely narrative arc, Welcome to the Rileys is a captivating film, thanks to the strength of its performances if not the plausibility of its story. Never mind that some of the characters' actions aren't fully explained; Stewart, Gandolfini and Leo are so dead-on that the story is more believable than it should be. Their intense, nuanced portrayals make us accept their characters' sometimes contradictory behaviors. For example, Doug has no problem with strippers, but he objects to Mallory's obscenity-laden rants. This would make little sense if not for the subtle way that Gandolfini transforms Doug from a strip club patron to a father figure, softening his features to turn a jaded customer into a well-meaning parent who thinks a teenage girl will go a lot farther in life if she stops dropping the F-bomb in every conversation.

Stewart's Mallory is ferociously pitiful, but the last thing she wants is pity. Physically and emotionally bruised (the physical bruises are subtle, the emotional ones not so much), she never asks for help but knows better than to refuse it. She's as clueless as she is streetwise, knowing how to make fast cash but stupidly carrying all of it with her when she visits crime-ridden motels. She's also immensely sexy, but makes us feel guilty for thinking so, especially when the light of day reveals a face far too shopworn for someone so young.

Leo gives the film's quietest performance, conveying Lois's deeply rooted suffering through pauses and vacant stares, in a counterpoint to Doug's gruff barking and Mallory's tough-girl histrionics. The stoic, taciturn Lois is a role tailor-made for Leo, who has built a highly respected career playing similar long-suffering but courageous women, most famously in her Oscar-nominated turn as Ray Eddy in Frozen River.

New Orleans, of course, is a no-brainer backdrop for this gritty story, although the New Orleans place-as-character motif is wisely underplayed. There are glimpses of Bourbon Street and flood-ravaged houses, but the camera doesn't dwell on them. There are plenty of striking, lingering shots, but they focus mostly on the characters in the foreground while letting the Big Easy recede into the background. Most of the action in Welcome to the Rileys happens in the dark, which is a convenient bit of visual realism; it gives the film a properly seedy, low-light look while also fitting with the story, because most strippers and prostitutes ply their trade late at night.

Despite my dour description of Welcome to the Rileys, it isn't a total downer. It's certainly not a feel-good film, but it isn't entirely depressing, either. There isn't much humor, but there are enough positive moments to create a glimmer of hope. If Welcome to the Rileys is about anything, it's about the possibility that damaged couples like the Rileys and cast-off kids like Mallory can live better lives. But in a nod to painful realism, the movie constantly reminds us that getting there won't be easy and may not happen at all.

Although Welcome to the Rileys isn't quite in league with the best of its mean-streets genre, it's a well crafted example of character-driven filmmaking with plenty of relevance to our mean-streets times. It's worth seeing for many reasons, if not for Stewart's performance alone.


•• NOLA.com, Mike Scott: Rating 3/4
The locally shot, locally set indie drama "Welcome to the Rileys" is, above all, a surprising little movie.

It's not surprising that it's good, mind you. With a cast boasting James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart, it would be hard for it to be downright bad. Rather, it's surprising in the lovely notes it consistently hits, and the simmering sweetness it achieves, despite the dark, seedy framework propping it up.

Defying convention and shiny, happy contrivances, it's the kind of movie that takes pleasure in its sense of raw realism, but also in turning audiences' expectations on their heads.

For starters, James Gandolfini plays a big softie -- an Indiana plumber still grieving the death of his teenage daughter six years earlier -- instead of a kneecap-breaking mobster. Similarly, co-star Kristen Stewart plays a hardened teenage sex worker, not a swooning, hopeless romantic with a thing for vampires.

For much of the first half of the film -- directed by Jake Scott and also starring "Treme" actress Melissa Leo -- audiences will be waiting for their inevitable cringe-inducing hookup. But they never do. What they do is connect, in a meaningful and beautiful way, and that's what turns this hard-to-pigeonhole drama into what it is: a gentle exploration of the glimmers of hope that twinkle around the edges of loss.

Even if not flawlessly paced -- the plot sags in several places -- it still is a nicely told and moving story, and an impressive showcase for the daring and eager-to-grow-up Stewart.

In it, Gandolfini and Leo play a married couple named Doug and Lois Riley, six years removed from the death of their daughter in a car crash. All these years later, they're still trying to wrap their heads and hearts around their new, soul-numbing reality.

The newly agoraphobic Lois' response is never to leave the house again, not even to get the newspaper from the curb. For Doug, it involves sitting alone in the garage, sneaking a smoke between crying jags.

When he attends a plumbing convention in New Orleans, however, everything changes.

That's when he meets Stewart's character, a 15-year-old runaway named Mallory -- who also goes by Jennifer, Allison and a few other names. She's that kind of girl: the kind with a lot of names, and the kind who strips in a sleazy nightclub when she's not turning tricks.

But Doug doesn't want what her other customers want. He just wants to take care of somebody -- to snake their toilet, to fix their fuse box, to drive them to work. He'll also wag his finger and lecture every once in a while, but he has got hugs when that's what's needed, too. In Mallory, he finds a reluctant but willing recipient.

Foul-mouthed and filthy, she's a hard person to fall in love with, but she's an easy one to pity. So rather than hang around the Convention Center, Doug moves into her Bywater home and takes care of her. Of course, there's still the matter of that awkward call to be made to Lois, informing her that he's not coming home anytime soon.

Plain and simple, "Welcome to the Rileys" is an actor's movie.

Without the fantastic performances from Gandolfini, Stewart and Leo, it wouldn't hold together nearly as well as it does. With those three, however -- who show passion, but restraint, at every turn -- Scott's soft-pedaled film becomes not the seamy tragedy it might sound like, but a string of disarmingly lovely moments and unexpectedly touching scenes.

When it comes to movies, that's the most welcome kind of surprise.


•• It's Just Movies: Ask a parent what their biggest fear is and most will reply, “That my child dies before me.” It’s just inbred in us: the security of knowing that one day, our children will take care of us, even bury us when need be. But what happens when the natural order of things is disrupted? What happens when your child has a serious, debilitating disease, and dies at the age of 10? What happens when your daughter kills herself after a long bout of depression? What happens when you see their cold, empty corpse just sitting in front of you, for the last time? Of course, it is the mother and father, their love, their mindset, and their future that takes the strain.

Jake Scott’s (son of Ridley Scott) “Welcome to the Rileys” explores themes such as the loss of a child and the mending of the heart that follows such a death, through the story of Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo), whose child’s demise is presented in the film’s opening scene – a shot of a wrecked car, with flames engulfing it. Both Doug and Lois have different coping mechanisms. Doug is a gambling man who regularly cheats on his wife with a young waitress, and then hides in the garage of his house, cries and smokes. Lois has developed a severe case of agoraphobia, refusing to leave the house for years, thus acquiring a dependency for prescription medication. Both continue to neglect their marriage.There is a juxtaposition between Doug, whose loss at the hands of destiny makes him strive for absolute control over anything and everything he can, and Lois, whose newly-found fear forces her into blind obedience and paranoia. However, Doug meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a teenage runaway-turned-stripper, in New Orleans. With Mallory — who appears to be a scantily-clad, foul-mouthed, under-educated resurrection of their daughter, Emily — the dynamic equilibrium is quickly disrupted.

Mallory is neither the anti-thesis nor compliment of either Doug or Lois; in fact, she retains features from both characters. She maintains the need for power, which she gets through sexuality, while still having the destructive paranoia of Lois. This balance makes both Doug and Lois, who ultimately conquers her fears in an attempt to rejuvenate her failing marriage, equally important in their journey to lead Mallory towards a brighter future.

It’s hard not to commend Stewart for venturing into even darker territory than “The Runaways,” but it’s even harder not to praise her performance as Mallory, to which she gives it her all, thus making the character accessible to the audience, even through the tough subject matter. This makes her work in the “Twilight” series, though initially profitable, a professional blunder that will hurt Stewart’s credibility in the long-run.

However, Gandolfini and Leo also have had their fair share of bad performances (“All the King’s Men,” “The Taking of Pelham 123,” “Everybody’s Fine,” “Righteous Kill”). Nevertheless, they both bring an immense level of talent to the film, working off the chemistry between the three characters — although Doug’s compulsive need for control makes his relationship to Mallory a tad creepy at times, which retracts from otherwise excellent acting. However, that is due to a script which could have used some fine tuning and revision.

Penned by Ken Hixon, “Welcome to the Rileys” has its moments of flat dialogue, which almost border on laughable, and a cliché ending. But there is enough dramatic buildup and the great performances compensate for the less than polished screenplay. However, make no mistake, there are a couple of fantastic scenes, namely when Doug visits the cemetery were his daughter is buried and the camera focuses on three tombstones, two being reserved for Lois and himself, and one for their daughter, whose death date has already been marked.

It’s scenes like these that really propel the film past Hixon’s rickety script and Scott’s bland direction. Admittedly, the overall film is beneath the standards that its leading performers set, but luckily, there is just enough for “Welcome to the Rileys” not to fall into the realm of Lifetime specials (aka faux-family dramas) and to satisfy its audience.


•• View London, Matthew Turner: Rating 3/5
Quietly assured and superbly written, this is an emotionally engaging drama with a trio of terrific performances from James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo.

The Good - The performances are excellent: Gandolfini is engaging and likeable as Doug (as well as pulling off a passable Midwest accent), despite his affair with Vivian and we correctly sense that he's a troubled man with a kind heart who has entered into an affair partly because he doesn't know how to help his wife (who has also shut down, emotionally). Similarly, Stewart is suitably spiky as Mallory, delivering a performance that should silence some of her Twilight critics, while Leo is typically brilliant as Lois, who slowly comes back to life when she decides to go after Doug (the first time she smiles is one of several lovely character moments).

There isn't much more to the plot, but Scott's quietly assured direction keeps things moving at a decent pace and the script carefully avoids many of the expected clichés. There's also a nicely naturalistic feel to the film with various scenes unfolding in a believable manner rather than feeling forced or over-scripted.

The Bad - That said, the low-key approach backfires slightly when it comes to the ending, which initially feels a little underwhelming, although a nicely written coda ultimately compensates. Similarly, the script stutters somewhat towards the end and can't quite resist spelling out a little more than it needs to, as regards Doug's motivations.

Worth seeing? - Impressively directed and sharply written, Welcome to the Rileys is an emotionally engaging drama with terrific performances from its three leads. Worth seeing.


•• Roger Ebert: Rating 3/4
"Welcome to the Rileys" takes two old plots and makes a rather touching new plot out of them. What we've seen before is (1) the good man who hopes to redeem a prostitute, and (2) the frozen suburban couple who find new hope in their marriage. The film involves such characters in a story that is a little more real and involving than we expect.

James Gandolfini stars as Doug Riley, an Indianapolis plumbing supplies contractor. His wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), hasn't been able to leave their house in years. He's having an affair with Vivian (Eisa Davis), a black waitress at a pancake house, and their two brief scenes together show enormous warmth. He isn't ready to leave his wife, however, perhaps because he knows she would not survive alone. Their daughter was killed at 15 in a car crash.

Doug goes to New Orleans for a convention, is depressed, wanders into a stripper bar and finds himself through no desire of his own receiving a hard sell from Mallory (Kristen Stewart). He doesn't want sex. He wants to talk. She thinks he's crazy. She is worn and wounded, hostile and vulnerable. He drives her home and ends up fixing her plumbing, cleaning her shabby shotgun house and offering her $100 a day to stop hooking.

We think we see where this will lead. That's not where it leads. Ken Hixon's screenplay deliberately avoids most of the obligatory dialogue in a situation like this and throws some curves at us. One of the surprises involves Lois. Mired in deep depression, Doug decides with a jolt to sell his business and stay in New Orleans. When he informs Lois, she finds the courage to leave her house and drive herself down to New Orleans.

Now watch how she reacts to the reality of her husband's relationship with Mallory. This involves good writing and acting. Lois is a grown-up. She isn't jealous; she's more concerned that he's crazy. He isn't defensive; he's matter-of-fact. This is Mallory, she's a 16-year-old runaway, he's helping her, she doesn't want help. That's how it is.

It's such a relief to be spared the usual cliches here and observe how Leo so convincingly channels a woman's mothering instinct. It's good, too, to see how director Jake Scott uses the physical presences of his well-cast actors. Stewart here is far from the porcelain perfection of the “Twilight” movies, and it's a relief to see that it is, after all, physically possible for a teenager to have complexion problems in a movie. Leo is worn out by loss and worry, but smart and kind.

And look at what Gandolfini does. He's a mountain of a man, but gentle, not threatening. In terms of body language, he establishes his character in a scene where he crawls into bed with his wife, and the mattress sags and he burrows into his pillow and looks — comfortable. When he smokes, his huge hands dwarf his cigarette. (There's a subtle tweak: He uses regular cigarettes, not king size, because they make his huge hands look even larger.)

I was struck at once by the uncanny accuracy of his central Indiana accent. I grew up in Downstate Illinois hearing men speak exactly like him. A kind of firm, terse understatement, on a flat, factual note. I could close my eyes and imagine one lifelong friend in particular. Going online, I found that the coastal critics as a group thought he was using a Southern accent, “for some reason.” They've never been to the Midwest and possibly never to the South. We all sound the same to them. Gandolfini has the accent spot on, and it's certainly not one that we've heard before from him.

“Welcome to the Rileys” does a convincing job of evoking its New Orleans locations. Mallory's house is messy and forlorn. Her street is depressing. The city at night seems a contrast between artificial merriment and loneliness, and more evocative than another city known for sin, Las Vegas.

What happens among the three people I will not say. The film introduces them, makes them plausible and then what happens is pretty much what might happen. These people haven't studied up on their archetypes. Each one is doing the best possible, under the circumstances.

RT @ebertchicago Saw "Welcome to the Rileys." Kristen Stewart is a fine actress. Saints preserve her from vampire movies.

- Of the feel of theaters and audiences, and eight films from Sundance: Welcome to the Rileys was one of the buzz champs of Sundance 2010. The discovery once again is Kristen Stewart, who after this year's festival can be considered completely rehabilitated after the "Twilight" films. The lead is James Gandolfini, as an Indianapolis plumbing contractor who goes to New Orleans on a business trip and meets (quite innocently) a runaway lap dancer who may be 16. At home, his wife (Melissa Leo) hasn't been able to leave the house after their own daughter's death, and Gandolfini decides on the spot to sell his business, stay in New Orleans, and rescue this angry and damaged girl.

That sounds like unlikely melodrama? So it is. But Gandolfini, Stewart and Leo inhabit it with persuasive performances, and director Jake Scott uses French Quarter locations that add another level of atmosphere. Gandolfini does something here he often does, as in John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes" (2005): He demonstrates that although he may not be conventionally handsome, when he smiles his face bathes you in the urge to like him. Kristen Stewart here is tougher even than her punk rocker in "The Runaways." Who knew she had these notes? I'm discovering an important new actress.


•• SFGate, Mick LaSalle: Young people picture middle age as something out of "Welcome to the Rileys," where people smoke and play cards and eat waffles (even though they're already enormous) and wake up in the middle of the night, staring off into the existential abyss - or sobbing.

There are many things to admire about this movie, but the main one is that it doesn't compromise. It tells a story of a couple mired in gloom, and so the atmosphere is gloomy and the pace is measured. There are no easy solutions, but there is a sort of break in the clouds. James Gandolfini is a small-businessman in Indiana, living in some kind of frozen-limbo-dead marriage to Melissa Leo. And then one day, while at a convention in New Orleans, he meets a 16-year-old stripper/prostitute (Kristen Stewart) and takes a genuine and fatherly interest in her life and well-being.

New Orleans makes the perfect setting - once known as a party city, now known as a disaster area. The resonances couldn't be more appropriate. Stewart is a mess in this movie - no compromise on that end, either. Her hair is unwashed, and her face is perpetually in the midst of some bad skin outbreak. Only someone as messed up and down on himself as this Indiana businessman could ever be expected to look at her with no judgment and no sense of moral superiority. That, in a sentence, is the beauty of this movie.

He's big and fat, she's little and skinny. She's ridiculously young, and he feels as if he's a hundred. But there's something going on here, a spiritual connection, not sexual but paternal and filial - a connection taking place at the last possible moment this girl might still be reached. Might. Again, no compromises.

Gandolfini plays tough guys, but he's an actor of gracefulness and refinement, with lots going on in the silences. And it's a pleasure to see Stewart ("Twilight") not trying to navigate sex with a vampire or a werewolf, but as a young actress, impressive with her quirky timing, unexpected line readings and expressive eyes. She doesn't go in for sentiment - at all. Actually no one does here, which means this is director Jake Scott's doing, too, and he deserves the credit.


•• Ain't no cool, Capone: WELCOME TO THE RILEYS I'm going to come right out and admit that I'm not exactly sure what the point of director Jake Scott's second feature (after 1999's PLUNKETT & MACLEANE, with a slew of great music videos in between the two films), but that didn't stop me from being drawn into its oddly touching story of the uneasy relationship between a middle-aged man and a teen stripper/prostitute he befriends and tries to save. In WELCOME TO THE RILEYS, James Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, a man whose life has lost it's light since the accidental death of his teen daughter in a car crash. His wife, Lois (the great Melissa Leo), has been afraid to leave their suburban home since the loss, so when Doug goes on a business trip to New Orleans, she must ask her irritated sister (Ally Sheedy, in a nice cameo) to come pick up her mail. While in New Orleans, Doug attempts to escape the housewares convention he's attending by going into a strip club, where he meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a stripper who talks him into a private-room dance which in turn becomes a solicitation. But Doug is more interested in hiding out and less in the bump and grind or sexual come ons. For some reason, Mallory's brash manner and sexual inhibitions make him curious about her living situation and whether she is beyond saving. It doesn't take genius or a psychiatrist to see that some part of Mallory reminds Doug of his dead daughter, and before long he is sleeping on her couch, helping her fix up her rented home, and trying to train her to be a bit more self sufficient and hopefully quit hooking.

Naturally, his half-baked plan hits some bumps, the first being that his abandoned wife decides that Doug's single phone call explained that he was staying away from home for a while wasn't sufficient enough an explanation for his absence. She manages to drag herself out of the house and drive down to New Orleans from Missouri. Her perilous journey serves as a sweet and humorous sideplot that Leo sells to perfection. Not every actress could make this work, but she's not every actress. WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is weirdly gripping, often go-for-broke emotionally heavy, and beautifully acted. I have to admit, I didn't think think Stewart really had it in her to surprise me, but as the foul-mouthed Mallory, she reminds me that there was a time when she was a strong actor and not just an accidental cultural icon. Not surprisingly, Lois isn't thrilled with Doug and Mallory's arrangement, but once she signs on, the couple becomes Mallory de facto parents for a while, and things begin to gel. RILEYS did not end the way I thought it would, but it does end the way it should, and that's a very good thing. I was strangely charmed and pulled into this film, and if you like your dramas a little on the bizarre and slightly inappropriate side, look no further.


•• Kansas City Star, Robert W. Butler: The film works because its stars make up a trifecta of terrific performers who overcome the clichés inherent in their characters.

Stewart confirms once again that away from the “Twilight” franchise she can be a daring and dangerous performer. Here she deftly contrasts Mallory’s childlike aspects against her jaded, crude side. Stewart isn’t afraid to be unpleasant and unattractive.


•• Herald Tribune, Christopher Lloyd: A cursory plot summary of "Welcome to the Rileys" -- middle-aged Indianapolis couple tries to turn around a teenage stripper in New Orleans -- doesn't do justice to this understated character study. A little gem of a film, "Rileys" boasts a trifecta of solid performances from James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo.

The story sounds ridiculous -- hokey, even. But all three actors inhabit their roles with such an unstudied validity that we don't for a moment think of them as movie characters behaving for the camera.

Gandolfini plays Doug Riley, a plumbing wholesaler in his early 50s who's just going through the motions. He and his wife Lois (Leo) lost their teenage daughter in a car crash nearly a decade ago, and have essentially placed their lives on hold since.

I loved all the subtle little details Gandolfini puts into Doug -- the way he unconsciously hikes up his belt over his ample belly, or braces a hand on the roof of his car when climbing in or out. A guy whose indulgences run to poker on Thursdays and late-night waffle runs, Doug isn't the sort to engage in a lot of introspection.

(If I had to pick a nit, I'd point out that the light syrup of twang Gandolfini drizzles over his accent is more Tennessee than Hoosier.)

If Doug has fault lines on the inside, then Lois' are easier to see. She has not even left the house in the ensuing years since her child's death -- when Doug goes away on rare business trips, a neighbor brings their newspaper in from the curb. Her daughter's room remains made up as tidily as Lois keeps her blonde hairdo.

In New Orleans for a convention, Doug ducks into a strip joint to escape the monotony of cocktails and glad-handing, and there he runs into Mallory (Stewart) -- which may or may not be her real name. Mallory says she's 22, looks a lot younger, and tries to trick Doug into buying a trick.

Before long, Doug is crashing at her run-down house, and calling Lois to tell her he may not be back anytime soon. Without ever being able to put his feelings into words, it's clear that Doug sees Mallory as a stand-in for the daughter he lost.

He starts fixing up her grubby home, in unspoken hopes that it'll help her clean up her life, too. Then Lois, who knows that her hermetically sealed grief has pushed her husband away, makes a bold move of her own.

I'm personally of the opinion that those "Twilight" movies have been a net burden to Stewart's career. Watching her textured work here, in which she shows us Mallory's carefully constructed walls of defensiveness, it's hard to imagine this is the same actress moping around with vampires.

They also do a good job of giving Stewart a sketchy, sleazy look, with dark-rimmed eyes and flesh that seems perpetually bruised.

Director Jake Scott, working from an original script by Ken Hixon, doesn't aim for any big theatrical moments or dramaturgical contortions. Rather, the filmmakers and actors carefully construct a tidy little world that feels authentic and true.


•• Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore: “Welcome to the Rileys” is a movie about life after death. Not the supernatural sort, but the life that those left behind choose to live after a loved one dies. Well cast and nicely acted, it’s another piece of the puzzle of what Kristen Stewart’s career might look like after “Twilight” turns dark.

James Gandolfiini stars as Doug Riley, a sad, portly owner of an Indianapolis plumbing supply house who spends as little time as possible with his agoraphobic wife. Lois (Melissa Leo) keeps a perfect home, is meticulous about her hair, her cooking and everything else. But years before, their teenage daughter died. She hasn’t left the house since.

So Doug has his poker games, an excuse to see his mistress at the pancake house. Without those outlets, he’d be sitting alone in the garage in the dark, smoking and grieving.

Another tragedy, and seeing the tombstone Lois bought for them to share with their daughter, sets him off.

“I don’t like having my name carved on a tombstone while I’m still alive.”

Lois says she was just being practical, but in her 50s with her little girl gone, she’s just waiting to die and figures Doug is, too.

But Doug’s sadness is interrupted by an out-of-town convention, and a chance stop in a New Orleans strip joint. Mallory (Stewart) is too skinny, too young and a little blitzed. Her lap dance sales pitch may leave Doug unmoved, but something in this scrawny teenager touches him. She is incurably coarse, living in filth in a house without power or running water. And she isn’t just a stripper. She’s turning tricks.

Actor turned screenwriter Ken Hixon (“Inventing the Abbots”) beautifully sets the table for what comes next. Doug’s interest in Mallory — not her real name — is paternal, not sexual. Here’s a teenager, living on her own, who needs help. And when you’ve got plumbing and wiring issues, there are worse things than having a plumbing supply guy take you on as a project.

Doug sees in her all the simple how-to-get-by life lessons he never got to pass along to his own daughter. Mallory can’t open her mouth without cursing. He’s not judgmental except in that regard. It makes her seem “cheap and immature and uneducated. And that may be the truth, but why advertise it?”

So Doug decides to stick around New Orleans and invest himself in her future. Not that he tells Lois that when he says he’s not coming home. And that sends Lois into a panic, one that might get her out of the house after nine years.

For all its sordid darkness, “Welcome to the Rileys” is a hopeful film. Stewart’s normal mannerisms — in film after film, she can’t stop playing with her hair — perfectly fit this lost, ungrateful and defiantly independent young woman. She’s a wreck, all dirt, bruises, sleepy eyes and chapped lips. Stewart and Gandolfini’s scenes have an edge, but her scenes with Leo have a moist-eyed warmth that give the film its heart.

Less successful is the effort to make Lois’s venture back into the great, wide world something comical. The levity is welcome, but the jokes — she’s forgotten how to drive — are thin.

There may be a metaphor about New Orleans itself in this story of ruin and loss and redemption. But the pleasures of “Welcome to the Rileys” are in the simplest human message of all. Take an interest in somebody who needs help and the life you save may be your own.


•• Orlando Weekly, Justin Strout: Rating 3/4
He may not have hit a homerun on his first Sundance at-bat, but debut feature director Jake Scott is savvy enough to get on base. In Welcome to the Rileys, the former music video helmer (Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” among them) takes on a knowing, by-the-numbers script by writer Ken Hixon (Inventing the Abbotts) – who could write a book on how to do this kind of middle-ground festival indie – in which a well-to-do, close-to-retirement couple is several years removed from the tragic death of their daughter and have failed to cope. Doug Riley (James Gandolfini), the husband, has thrown himself into his work and smokes cigarettes in his garage in the dark. His wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), has become agoraphobic.

One day at a business conference in New Orleans, Doug meets a stripper, Mallory (Kristen Stewart), who bears an eerie resemblance to his daughter. Mallory is a teen runaway, something of a squatter and turns tricks for cash. After a night of uncomfortable bonding, Doug offers Mallory $100 a night to stay at her place and fix it (and her) up properly, like the nice, suburban girl he never got to raise. She sees it as no different from a sugar-daddy arrangement and accepts. He calls home and says he won’t be back for a while.

By casting Gandolfini, who has made everyone from a petty thug (Get Shorty) to a mob boss lovable, and Stewart, whose non-Twilight resume continually affirms her next-Jodie-Foster thesp status, Scott proves he’s as shrewd as he is talented. Stewart’s twitchy, unfiltered turn is ferocious in its simplicity; her refusal to apologize or explain why her character behaves the way she does shows Stewart to be an intuitive actress capable of holding the screen in a way no other young starlet has quite learned how. Gandolfini, despite an occasional, ill-conceived Midwestern drawl, reminds the audience once again why he’s Papa Bear of the screen.

Unfortunately, these two constitute only half of the film’s nearly two-hour running time; the other half belongs solely to Lois, played by Leo (Stewart’s Cake Eaters co-star) blankly and without an ounce of verisimilitude. In one of the year’s biggest disappointments, Leo’s stagey, self-aware performance belongs in a different, lesser movie altogether. As her character pulls herself together in an effort to travel to New Orleans and win her estranged husband back, Lois spends vast amounts of screen time looking mildly taken aback by the outside world, going down mindless comic-relief detours (She forgot how to drive! She drives slowly!) to end up in the exact same role-playing scenario as her husband later, only without the interesting character development that Gandolfini’s Doug goes through. It’s a weakness not just of Leo’s but of everyone involved. They let Lois down.

Still, the sexless father-daughter relationship between Doug and Mallory is captivating whenever we go back to it, so raw is Kristen Stewart and so capable of absorbing abuse is Gandolfini. These two really deserve their own movie. Too bad this only gave us half of one.


•• Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Philip Martin: Middle age may seem like walking death to people in their 20s, and the opening moments of Jake Scott’s Welcome to the Rileys does nothing to dispel that notion. We watch as a heaving hump of an overweight white guy plays poker with his buddies, then repairs to a waffle shop to eat and flirt with the waitress he has kept as a mistress for years while his brittle, agoraphobic wife devotes herself to dusting.

We understand from the beginning their marriage is not just loveless, but airless - an emotional vacuum.

But, like middle-aged men everywhere, the guy feels stirrings, and hears the footsteps of his mortality. So it’s not surprising that, while on a business trip to New Orleans, this Midwestern Everyman manages to find himself in the company of a presumably underage stripper.

But Welcome to the Rileys does not go where you probably think it goes,and in subverting the cliches it throws at you in its opening half-hour or so, it does something fairly miraculous. It delivers James Gandolfini from the clutches of Tony Soprano.

Gandolfini owed much to Soprano, so much - I thought - that he’d ever be able to retire the debt. But he’s been chiseling away at the debt for years - he was the best thing in the forgettable Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston caper The Mexican (2001); he held his own with a top-of-his-game Billy Bob Thornton in The Man Who Wasn’t There; he amused as the dovish (and duplicitous) man-of-war in last year’s In the Loop. While he’ll probably always be “T” to most of us, he’s a formidable talent who, despite the oblivious limitations of his physicality, has displayed enormous range.

And he has excellent support from the other two points of the triangle. If you know Kristen Stewart - who (do I really need to say it?) plays the stripper - only from those kiddie porn vampire flicks, well you don’t know Kristen Stewart. While The Runaways was a disappointing mild bio-pic, her Joan Jett was spot-on. And if you saw her in The Cake Eaters at the 2009 Little Rock Film Festival (it’s unlikely you saw it anywhere else), you wouldn’t be surprised to learn she actually can act.

As for Melissa Leo, well, she’s Melissa Leo - she’s so good that she can make you forget she’s Melissa Leo. Honestly, she fades into blankness and then is reborn as a real woman.

It might have been enough for Scott (son of Ridley, and director of the under-baked 1999 period farce Plunkett and Macleane) to set these three actors in a room and let them have a go at each other, but Welcome to the Rileys supplies them with so much more - Scott’s low-rent New Orleans is authentically sordid, a morning-after world of littered streets and wreckage, and his film’s rhythm of revulsion, recognition and reconciliation is nuanced. The resolution feels true, especially in its insistence on gray tones, and the suspension of judgment necessary to provide genuine kindness.

This is an uncompromising movie about the compromises people sometimes have to make in order to save themselves - and others. It’s about doing what’s necessary and right, instead of what’s moral.


•• Entertainment Spectrum, Keith Cohen: Rating 3/4
James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos"), Kristen Stewart (best known as Bella Swan from "The Twilight Saga" movies) and Melissa Leo ("Conviction" and the upcoming "The Fighter") put on an acting showcase in this emotional story of damaged individuals.

The marriage of Doug and Lois Riley (Gandolfini and Leo) has grown cold and stale after nearly 30 years. Doug, 52, runs a wholesale plumbing supply business in Indianapolis. His lonely existence consists of a weekly poker game and smoking cigarettes in the garage. He has been having an affair for four years with Vivian (Eisa Davis), an African-American waitress.

Doug asks Vivian to go with him to a business convention in New Orleans. A few days later he learns that Vivian has died of a heart attack. He becomes even more depressed. He goes to the cemetery and visits Vivian’s grave. He then pays his respects to his daughter Emily, who died eight years ago at age 15 in a car crash.

Lois, 50, has become agoraphobic and is unable to step outside their suburban house. All guests come in through the garage (rather than the front door), where an oval-shaped wooden sign bears the words of the movie’s title.

Lois asks her sister Harriet (Ally Sheedy in a cameo appearance) to pick up her mail and newspaper every day that Doug is out of town.

Doug goes to the convention in New Orleans and wanders into a strip club. He is solicited for sex by Mallory (Stewart), a 16-year-old runaway from Florida. Mallory hides her oily skin and acne complexion by applying heavy makeup, mascara and dark eye liner. Her profanity-strewn chatter makes her sound cheap, immature and uneducated.

Doug takes a parental interest in Mallory. He calls Lois and tells her that he is staying in New Orleans. Lois thinks Doug has lost his mind. She finds the courage to drive the Cadillac all the way to New Orleans.

Surprising twists lead the story in unexpected directions. The actors get credit for making you care about these characters. The audience develops a temporary bond during the 110-minute running time.

The heart-to-heart conversations between Mallory and Doug seem genuine. Mallory is also able to open up to Lois on female concerns.

Ridley Scott’s son Jake directs this contemporary drama from an original script by Ken Hixon. The movie was shot in New Orleans, which adds authenticity and sets the mood.

Gandolfini uses his physicality and a Midwestern accent to embody a father with a gentle side. Leo shows a lot of class in her portrayal of a grief-stricken woman feeling guilty for impulsive actions. Stewart shows her versatility in stepping out of her comfort zone. She previously demonstrated her acting chops in the little-seen "The Yellow Handkerchief" (2008), now available on DVD and also worth checking out.


•• Home Media Magazine, Ashley Ratcliff: Hope is lost for Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo) Riley in the aftermath of their 15-year-old daughter’s death.

They cope with that void in different ways. Lois becomes an agoraphobic who hasn’t left her suburban Indianapolis home in years. The headstones that Lois purchases next to their beloved Emily’s grave are an outward manifestation of inward feelings. Her life is practically over, but Doug finds reasons to live.

Doug has been having an affair with a waitress from the pancake house he frequents after his weekly poker games. But his mistress’ sudden death marks a return to that same feeling of emptiness that arose when Emily died eight years ago. So Doug is eager to get away on a business trip to New Orleans.

Once there, he encounters Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a sullied, foul-mouthed stripper. The feisty, 16-year-old runaway throws herself at Doug, offering him a private dance, among other sexual favors. But rather than take the bait, Doug sees in Mallory a lost child in dire need of a father figure. This proves to be yet another coping mechanism for Doug, who longs for someone to care about in the absence of his daughter and a happy marriage.

On a whim, Doug chooses to stay in New Orleans at the teen’s run-down apartment. But Lois fights back for once, overcoming her insecurities and attempting to salvage her strained marriage. Oddly, Doug, Lois and Mallory end up developing a familial bond, which is much needed for all parties.

Welcome to the Rileys is interesting to watch because it doesn’t fall into the clichés that could be tempting with these common character types. Stewart gives a remarkable performance in this drastic departure from her “Twilight” series role, while Gandolfini and Leo bring depth to their characters.


•• Tired of Previews?: Rating 7/10
Question: Do you think the actors who have played two of the most well known TV and movie characters in the last 10 years (Tony Soprano and Bella Swan) can be seen as anything else? I say yes - Welcome to the Rileys proves that.

I saw a clip from Welcome to the Rileys when it was getting ready to debut. The clip didn't show much and I couldn't understand who these two characters were to each other. However, I rented it to see what the story was about. Now, you know I am not going to spoil it for you but rest assured the relationship portrayed in this film was different than most I have seen between an older man and young female - and worth watching.

Welcome to the Rileys takes a subject matter that many families have thrust upon them and shows the aftermath through a profound and realistic view point. Life is messy, cruel and can kick you in the stomach but many films like to make sure you leave satisfied in the end with everyone smiling and fixed. This film doesn't try to solve all the answers and it doesn't clean it all up either. How refreshing.

James Gandolfini plays a tender but broken man who is stuck in his marriage and life. He took on this role with an authenticity that I have never seen him try before. His portrayal brought tears to my eyes when his character decided to release the pause button from his dilemma. Kristen Stewart grabbed her portrayal with a vulnerability tied in with an inner strength only real survivors seem to possess. There is no resemblance to her past roles in this movie.

However, Melissa Leo, who was recognized at the Academy Awards for her outstanding performance in The Fighter this year, probably helped both the other actors reach the story's true potential. She, too, showed a real character and the process one goes through if they allow the tragedies of life to consume them.

This is not a fast-paced movie and it won't give you all the answers, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I recommend Welcome to the Rileys, even it is just to show everyone that iconic characters don't need to pigeonhole an actor.

My favorite thing: The giggle I had when I wasn't expecting any light-hearted parts in this movie.

My least favorite thing: Realizing the basis of the story is probably more prevalent than I would like to consider.


•• Culture Feast, Gary Karbon: Here is a tiny little film that barely earned $320,000 in total box-office receipts world-wide and screened only in 11 movie theaters when it was released. It’s one of those films that was tossed straight into the home-video bin.

But my god… what quality, what super writing, directing, and acting are tucked away in this miniscule corner of the movie world! The quality of this adult drama is nothing less than astounding.

First off, let’s praise the world-class acting muscle brought in by James Gandolfini (Doug Riley) of the SOPRANOS fame. That TV-series has seared itself permanently into my brain cells and will live with me as long as I’m around. And the number one reason why I loved that show so much was Gandolfini. The number one reason why I was mesmerized with the RILEYS is again JG. Bless you, sir.

But Melissa Leo as Doug’s depressed wife Lois and Kristen Stewart as a teenage hooker also excel beyond description. Why I haven’t heard the names of these amazing actors before; I have no idea. But I’m sure we’ll hear about them frequently in the future, especially Stewart given the fact that she is still so young and in the early years of her career. May it be a long one. I think she’ll fill in the shoes of Marcia Gay Harden nicely. Stewart is another Natalie Portman or Michelle Williams in the making.

At times I thought the RILEYS might deteriorate into the overworked formula of MY FAIR LADY (even PRETTY WOMAN): will Doug try to make a lady out of Mallory? Yes and no, but Mallory is no “lady” for sure. She is not even a “woman” yet. She is a foul-mouthed wild beast.

The story takes a sharp turn at this point with Lois’s decision to pack up her suitcase, get into the family Cadillac, and after a few nervous mishaps, hit the road to… New Orleans! Lois has her epiphany and will not leave Doug on his own down in the netherworld of New Orleans.

Act Three of this fascinating story gets layered with all three major characters interacting with each other to redeem themselves and to find salvation in ways that befit them.

The ending is both logical and delicate. Writer Ken Hixon and director Jake Scott (nephew of the great Tony Scott) really love their characters and they treat them with respect, patience, and dignity even when they are down in the pits, smeared with the ugliness of the world.

The RILEYS leaves us emotionally exhausted but yet also strangely charged up for the possibilities ahead. Hope is beating like a drum in the inner chambers of this film.

R-rated and too hard for the kids. But if you’d like to spend meaningful two hours in front of your TV set curled up with your spouse or significant other, RILEYS is not a bad choice at all. As a matter of fact, until you see it, it should be the only choice.

Reelz, Leonard Maltin