One of the most emotionally eloquent moments in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, is when a grieving mother who’s lost her children cries out in despair, ‘God didn’t save my babies.’ To which another character replies, ‘Then save some other women’s babies.’ This key episode in excavating human hope when there’s not much around, more than makes its point but never follows through. Welcome To The Rileys on the other hand, assumes the burden of that mission in the extreme, and however unlikely.
James Gandolfini drops his tough guy Sopranos persona and gets in touch with his sensitive side in Welcome To The Rileys as Doug, a suburban Indiana plumber running a successful equipment business. He’s also trying to move on with his life as best he can after the death of his only child, while keeping looming midlife crisis at bay. Unlike Doug’s withdrawn, chronically depressed wife Lois (Melissa Leo) who still fusses over their departed daughter’s room as if she’s still around, and has even made the couple’s reservations so to speak, much to his dismay, at the local cemetery for internment next to their child’s grave.
Doug’s frustrating, seemingly borderline terminal existence gets turned around during a plumber’s convention down in New Orleans one night, when he heads off to a low end strip bar to drink away painful memories. But he’s cornered instead by sexually aggressive combo stripper/lap dancer and underage incidental hooker Mallory (Kristen Stewart) and spurns her relentless flirty advances.
When Doug runs into Mallory the next day by chance, he’s soon moving into her life as father figure to a surrogate daughter as substitute for the one he’s lost whether she likes it or not, and she mostly doesn’t. And after Lois’ wayward spouse announces he’s not returning home anytime soon, she somehow overcomes her self-imposed physical isolation from the world. And impulsively heads off to join him in a quite thankless and most unwelcome parenting endeavor, targeting a fiercely resistant Mallory.
Welcome To The Rileys is the feature film debut of Ridley Scott offspring, Jake. And with Jake Scott’s embrace of psychologically driven, muted dramatic momentum over action, he’s evidently not a chip off the old block.
But while the pacing often sags, Stewart and her radical transition along with impressively expanding range from Twilight’s moping teen to abrasive, profoundly damaged rude womanchild, effectively picks up the slack. As she settles into a sleazy routine that seems just as relaxed hanging around infatuated vampires, as glued to stripper poles and pasties. Though a testosterone stifled Gandolfini appears somewhat less comfortable in his own extreme switchup from wise guy to relative wimp, and assigned here to deferring to Stewart as the no-nonsense sassy chick in charge.
Welcome To The Rileys
Samuel Goldwyn Films
2 1/2 stars