Welcome to the Rileys
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Kristen Stewart may be best known for her role as awkward (and perpetually scowling) Bella in the Twilight movies, but there’s much more to this young (and surprisingly seasoned) actress than angst-filled teen romance. And if you just can’t handle the moodiness of the popular vampire/werewolf love triangle, you might be pleasantly surprised to find that she’s often more watchable—and sometimes slightly less moody—in her other, non-Twilight roles. In fact, her latest film, Welcome to the Rileys, is full of surprises—and that alone makes this indie drama worth a look.

Ever since their teenage daughter was killed in a car accident, the Rileys’ lives have fallen apart. Lois (Melissa Leo) hasn’t left the house in years, while Doug (James Gandolfini) has gotten lost in poker nights with the guys and an affair with Viv (Eisa Davis), a waitress at the neighborhood pancake house. But after Viv’s sudden death, he begins to feel like he has nothing left.

While on a business trip to New Orleans, Doug decides to wallow in his misery at a dingy strip club. There, he meets Mallory (Stewart), a teen runaway who’s working as a stripper. Doug instantly feels protective of the wayward young girl, and he decides to stay in New Orleans for a while and take care of her. And when he calls Lois to tell her that he’s not coming home, she’s forced to make a big change in her own life to win him back.

Directed by Jake Scott (you may know his dad, Ridley, and his uncle, Tony), Welcome to the Rileys is slower and simpler than the usual Scott Family film. Instead of Dad and Uncle Tony’s car usual action-packed adventures, Jake’s latest is a quiet drama that tells a not unfamiliar story about a marriage that’s been torn apart by tragedy. Not a whole lot of surprises there—just the usual distance, detachment, and poor communication.

The film’s big surprises, then, come from the unexpected performances. While Mallory (a.k.a. Allison, as well as a whole host of other aliases) is still a pretty dark and moody character, she’s more than just another angry teenager. Stewart’s performance is perfectly layered, giving her character plenty of vulnerability beneath her crude and fearless exterior.

Meanwhile, Gandolfini breaks away from his Tony Soprano type-casting to play an awkwardly sweet Midwesterner who doesn’t know how to deal with his own feelings of loss. Like Stewart, Gandolfini gives his character depth and humanity—it’s the most sincere and down-to-earth character we’ve seen him play in a very long time.

The only real disappointment is Leo—who, admittedly, doesn’t have a whole lot to work with. When given the chance, she gives a compelling performance—but her character lacks development, and it makes her seem all too changeable, her moods constantly swinging from sullen to delighted, from angry to supportive. And that often makes Lois a frustrating character.

Welcome to the Rileys isn’t a profound film. It isn’t the kind of movie that you’ll eagerly debate around the water cooler. But it’s a plain and simple drama, with a story that’s (generally) well-told and a cast that captivates.

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