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Not quite the life of Riley. Welcome to the Rileys (2010).

December 18, 2011

My admiration for Kristen Stewart has been noted elsewhere and I remain an unapologetic fan after seeing this stunning, unpretentious little film which, as usual, received little love from critics or audiences (‘as usual’ as in I loved it but everyone else didn’t). Welcome to the Riley’s is a micro-study of grief and healing, but in the most gentle, understated manner possible. And because it is gentle, and its performances are understated, of course it is not Oscar- or critic-fodder. The film also stars the always-amazing James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo, fresh off her Oscar win last year for The Fighter. The film is ably directed by Jake Scott, son of Ridley Scott.

One of the ‘problems’ with this film is that it offers few happy conclusions and at its end, grimy teen stripper Mallory (Stewart) remains stalwart and unsaved by the middle-aged do-gooder Rileys, Doug and Louis, who are looking for redemption and grace in all the wrong places after the loss of their only teenaged daughter some years previously. (Another niggle is that Mallory is drug free. Unlikely surely?)

Much has been said, often rather rudely, about Stewart’s acting ‘tics’: her nervous energy, her nibbling, slouching, chewing, face scruncing and delivery. I have little patience with these criticisms. Most people have a knee-jerk reaction to Stewart because she plays Bella Swan; they fail to see past her unwanted pop-culture persona into the individual performances. As an actress Stewart is a child of the age: a poorly-educated, raw, occasionally pretentious, contradictory child-woman/boy-girl; sexy and asexual. She incarnates Youth in many of its forms. Picking on her range of tics is unfair when one watches lauded performances by other ‘personality’ (or tic-laden) actors like Pitt and Clooney – both also highly contemporary actors like Stewart. In other words, lots of actors have a schtick, but they are forgiven for it. Especially when they are seasoned, lauded male stars.

That said, Stewart is often difficult to watch: an intense inward-looking actress. As are Gandolfina and Leo in this film. As a dysfunctional threesome they make the film almost unbearable in parts. Stewart, in particular, is moving and utterly vulnerable as the sweet/angry Mallory, often filmed curled up in semi-sleep, in her underwear on a mattress. Even her stripper garb, her teetering platforms and tiny breasts, are somehow appalling to witness and the viewer just wants to cover her up, as Gandolfini does. As a friend/paternal presence, Gandolfini huffs and puffs like a gruff, depressed grizzly bear, trying to parent the lost girl by way of furniture and plumbing. Leo is the strangely competent centre despite her early panic attacks. She is also perhaps more the realist; aware of the limitations of their relationship with Mallory. But a shop scene where the straightlaiced Louis tucks a bruised Mallory into a neat pastel brassiere is lump-in-throat stuff. I am sure I was not alone in desperately wanting the Riley’s to sweep the frail Mallory away into their lives at this point.

On the whole I found the film a sensitive treatise on reactive depression and loss. It paints a subtle tonal portrait using humour (Louis is agoraphobic, her emergence from her home the source of a few dry anxiety in-jokes) and contrast (the New Orleans red light district VS bland convention centres and suburbia). But its realism remains a crucial feature and there is little salvation on offer beyond the most basic survival brought about by a loving family (both real and adopted) and the possibility of human connections. In many respects Mallory is a cipher; a catalyst for the reconciliation of the married couple. I appreciated the ending yet despite its accepting hopefulness, came away from the film with a sense of all the sad, lost girlhoods out there in the sprawl of the USA.

One Comment
  1. pallasathena1 permalink

    Loved your review, saw the trailer, found it unbearably sad, so didnt watch it

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