Screening 4:00 pm Sunday, Sharonville Fine Arts Center

    Cinema Verite


Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel wrote, "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.

Still reeling from the death of their teenage daughter nine years prior, Indianapolis residents Doug and Lois Riley (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) live in despair, apart from the world and each other. Doug runs his plumbing supply business, plays poker and takes a mistress to occupy his time, and most evenings sits in his garage smoking, drinking and greiving. Lois hasn't left the house in years and crumbles at any mention of her daughter.

Things change for everyone when Doug travels to New Orleans for a convention and encounters Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a teenage runaway now a pole dancer and part-time hooker. Doug sees in her a chance for all the simple how-to-handle-life lessons he never got to pass along to his own daughter.

Director Jake Scott combines two themes not uncommon in dramatic cinema: parents grieving over the loss of a child and the attempts of a good man to redeem a fallen woman. The hybrid storyline explores overcoming grief, establishing trust and the process by which two unhappy people married for a long time find a way to renew their love.

The performances make the film. Welcome to the Rileys gives the actors space, and gives the audience time, to feel the impact of artfully conveyed expressions and unspoken emotions, instead of rushing into unnecessary dialogue or scene changes. Director Scott's hands-off approach allows three excellent but stylistically different actors to do some of the best work of their careers so far.

Gandolfini's Doug is a more vulnerable and likeable character than we've seen in much of his other work, a man we can understand and relate to. Melissa Leo litterally became Lois Riley, changing the way her character walked, her expressions and conveyance of resignation, uncertainty and ultimate optimism.

Preparing for her role, Kristen Stewart learned how to pole dance, deprived herself of sleep, chain-smoked, and ate mostly junk food. As a result her body and legs were covered with bruises, her skin was blemished, and she constantly looked tired -- a perfect fit for the character of Mallory. Her performance is way different and far stronger than what was seen in the Twilight series.

Welcome to the Rileys is poignant without being sappy. Avoiding a pat Hollywood "everybody lives happily ever after" ending, and with a few twists that eschew predictability, the outcome is uplifting. This is one of those low-profile little gems that only come around every so often.

Thank you Jake Scott, for creating a film that shows us the path to healing the human heart, and for allowing us to share your work with the Cincinnati World Cinema film community



Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize – U.S. Dramatic Feature competition, at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Welcome to the Rileys at the Sundance Film Festival
By Larry Richman

At first glance Ken Hixon's screenplay says Pretty Woman meets My Fair Lady, with businessman Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) on a mission to tame wild stripper Mallory (Kristen Stewart). The story takes us in a more unexpected direction, however, and its originality begins to emerge. Welcome to the Rileys isn't about redemption per se, but the way that we are inexplicably changed by the strangers who serendipitously enter our lives.

The Rileys are Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo), and it's apparent from the start that their marriage has seen better days. While barely hinting at the tragedy which has slowly pushed them apart, Doug spends more and more time away from home while Lois stays locked inside. On a routine trip to a convention in New Orleans, a visit to a strip club places a young runaway (Kristen Stewart) into Doug's lap. What happens next is not as predictable as it seems, and a fuse is lit which burns ever so slowly as the lives of these three lost souls are altered in the most unpredictable ways.

Cinema Verite

The film's opening shot sends an immediate and powerful message about the look of this film -- a face obscured in shadow, close up, with only an outline hinting at the actor's identity. Then, lighting up to smoke, the familiar image of actor James Gandolfini fills the screen.

The delicate use of natural light and shadow permeates the film, giving it a noir look that perfectly matches the mysterious nature of the characters' thoughts and true motivations. Night scenes are lit using the same type of lamp which illuminates the French Quarter, adding to the indie feel. Marc Streitenfeld's delicate, jazz-influenced score is used sparingly, punctuating the poignant moments of the movie.

Copious use of closeups blends well with the lighting and sound design, and cinematographer Christopher Soos makes full use of the playful visuals offered by colorful and quaint New Orleans. Pacing is appropriately slow, with the patient hand of editor Nicolas Gaster at the helm.

Most of all, Welcome to the Rileys is character-driven, with Leo, Gandolfini, and Stewart each owning their roles with an intensity that never wanes. Few actors play the tortured wife and mother as well as Melissa Leo. As the agoraphobic Lois Riley, her quiet desperation is palpable. Leo's face reflects painful tragedy one moment and shines with the glow of a new mother the next.

Gandolfini combines the strength of an experienced road warrior with the innocence of a young man taking his first girl to the prom. His presence dominates this film and his sensitive performance is breathtaking.

Stewart takes risks which would be daunting to actors twice her age. Brash and offensive, her Mallory is like a wild tigress that's escaped from the zoo and evades capture at every turn. This could be her most surprising and memorable performance yet.

Director Jake Scott, in his second feature, doesn't shy away from his pedigree -- he's the son of Ridley and nephew of Tony Scott, who serve as producers -- but leaves no doubt that he comes from his own school of filmmaking. On the face of it, this film seems to be a variation on classic dramatic themes. But Welcome to the Rileys retains a unique quality to it that sets it apart from the rest. If you look closely enough, the message is clear. Life-changing experiences aren't planned. They hit you when you least expect it.

Larry Richman regularly traverses the globe reporting on and reviewing a wide variety of independent films and covering a diverse array of genres and styles. His review of WTTR from Sundance is posted in Independent Film Analysis at