Golden Globe? winner James Gandolfini, (?The Sopranos?) is Doug Riley, a man at the crossroads. Ever since the tragic death of his teenage daughter, he’s led a life of quiet desperation… and now, something has to give. On a business trip to New Orleans, he encounters Mallory (Kristen Stewart, the Twilight films) — a raw, angry runaway living a dangerous life as a stripper. Moved by emotions he barely understands, Riley abandons his old life to save hers. The tenuous balance is threatened when his wife Lois (Academy Award? nominee Melissa Leo, Best Actress, Frozen River, 2008) shakes off the fears that have kept her homebound for years. Now three lost souls seek hope and forgiveness in each other… and together, they discover a rare gift of connection that feels like family.
Terrific performances by two veteran actors buoy Welcome to the Rileys, an entertaining and surprisingly quirky look at a dark subject. Doug and Lois Riley (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) have a home in Indianapolis, a set of engraved headstones already waiting for them in the local cemetery, and a marriage that’s been crumbling since their daughter died in a car crash at age 15; Doug has found some solace in an affair with a waitress at a local diner, but even that proves to be a mixed blessing at best. On a business trip to New Orleans, he wanders into a strip club and meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a broke, foul-mouthed stripper-cum-prostitute who takes his carnal intentions for granted. But there aren’t any–Doug wants a daughter, not a whore, and in a credibility-defying sequence of events, he immediately moves into her squalid apartment (paying her a hundred bucks a day for the privilege), decides to sell his plumbing supply business, and phones his wife to tell her he’s not coming home “for a while.” Lois’s reaction? She piles into Doug’s Cadillac and tools down to N’Awlins, informing her hubby that if he’s living with Mallory (or Allison, or whatever her name is), then she will too. The struggle of parents trying to cope with the death of a child is not a fresh topic, but from Ordinary People in 1980 to much more recent films like Rabbit Hole, Creation, and The Lovely Bones, it has usually been treated with a much heavier hand than the one wielded by director Jake Scott here; the scene in which Lois struggles to figure out the Caddy’s many bells and whistles is played for laughs, and her encounter with a would-be suitor while en route to New Orleans, while poignant, is refreshingly unsentimental. Gandolfini (in a role that may be the furthest he’s yet gotten from Tony Soprano) and Leo are excellent, and although Stewart seems to be trying just a bit too hard to distance herself from the Twilight franchise, she’s a young actress with a bright future. –Sam Graham