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.