Two leads from very different franchises – Twilight and The Sopranos – come together to form something of an odd couple in the heart-strings manipulator, Welcome to the Rileys.
If I said to you there was a film in which Kristen Stewart plays a sixteen year-old stripper adopted by James Gandolfini, you’d probably wonder which drug I’d been taking, how much it was and where you could purchase some (I do oxygen. I hear it’s free – long live the NHS). Actually, Welcome to the Rileys features this concept as its main premise, and once you get past the surprise of both actors’ departure from their more familiar roles, a stark portrayal of abuse, sex and the loss of innocence awaits you.
Doug (Gandolfini) works in construction, and is desperately trying to escape the trauma arising from death of his daughter, a decade-old event which has rendered his wife depressed and housebound. Escaping to a strip club during a convention in New Orleans, he meets Mallory (Stewart), a teenage runaway who’s taken to prostitution and working strip clubs to pay rent to a perverted landlord. So begins an unlikely friendship, as she seeks a father figure in Doug and he a replacement for his lost daughter.
Oddly, neither of them actually seems the worse off for this situation – that accolade goes to Doug’s wife, Lois, (Melissa Leo). Cheated on, left childless, abandoned, housebound, dangerously depressed and over medicated, she manages to break through her barrier of grief and hunt down her husband, only to discover he’s living with a teenage stripper. And so begins an awkward attempt at family replacement, on both sides – theirs, and Mallory’s.
It’s a hard watch a lot of the time, mainly because of Lois’s and Mallory’s tales of suffering. Gandolfini and Leo do an absolutely marvellous job in their roles as parents, interrupted. Gandolfini occasionally forgets he’s a father in Indianapolis and not a New Jersey mafia boss – although that may just be my association (and possibly yours) of him with his most iconic role.
Stewart also suffers from the same problem – after portraying Bella Swan in the Twilight saga, she, like Daniel Radcliffe and Elijah Wood before her, struggles to break out of the character that landed her the biggest role of her career. Although the moody teenager approach works well for the role she’s playing, it may feel a little forced to some, and at times you’ll wonder what was ad-libbing and what was scripted, as even Gandolfini makes a scripted reference to her gratuitous use of profanity over the duration of the film.
Overall, it’s a worthy watch if you’re a fan of stories that deal with real people in difficult situations, and it all feels genuine enough to be sad, although the ending may feel like a wrong note for some despite avoiding the “all’s well” trope so many other heart-warmers fall into. It’s a dark film, make no mistake – but if you’re curious about what the known quantities in Welcome to the Rileys have to offer, I’d advise you to find out.
Welcome to the Rileys is in cinemas from this Friday.