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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Welcome To The Rileys

Phenomenal acting

Welcome To The Rileys is one of those rare masterpieces about grief that presents the reality that it's often easier to connect with strangers than those in our real lives.


Ever since the death of their daughter Emily, Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo) has been drifting apart. Due to her grief, Lois has become a fragile agoraphobic and refuses to talk about her trauma. Doug travels to New Orleans for a business trip where he meets Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a sixteen-year-old sex worker with a dark past and no one in her life.


After accompanying her home after work, the two become more comfortable with one another. Not wanting to return home to the source of his pain, Doug offers Mallory money solely in exchange for living in her home, which she accepts. As time goes by, they settle into a new routine and become very good friends.


Lois having finally realized the gravity of her distance, beats her agoraphobia and travels to New Orleans to find her husband. She immediately learns about Mallory but soon warms up to her due to her striking similarities to Emily. Eventually, Lois moves in as well and the three of them form an unconventional family. While their attachment is real, it doesn't solve each of their problems and each of their individual truths gets pushed closer, forcing them all to acknowledge everything they've strayed from saying out loud.


Gandolfini’s performance in Welcome To The Rileys is the role I remember him for because of how sincere his portrayal of grief is. The drums of his character's trauma ring loudly because of his ability as an actor to force it right out of him.


Leo's never had any difficulty in subjecting herself to dark material but it's not often her characters have such vulnerability. The scenes where she attempts to leave her house and take the long drive were unforgettable because this is something most people do every day. The level of fear in her eyes at doing something so ordinary gives bravery a whole new meaning.


Kristen Stewart's performance is the seed that gives the garden of Welcome To The Rileys its healthy vegetables. I'm very defensive of her as an actor. This is because she's done a significant amount of independent drama films with complex characters and those are the stories I feel most drawn to. I've always found her awkwardness to be the source of her brilliance as an actor because it shows that she's not a liar. So many actors are great but they often put on facades and she doesn't. She is herself, everywhere and all the time. She doesn't want to be a movie star, she wants to be an actor. It seems that by now in 2019, she's finally confident in who she is which will only continue to open multiple doors for her.


Mallory is someone who puts on a facade. It's a form of survival for her. If she acts like she's ok then she doesn't have to deal with her pain and meeting Doug starts to make this harder for her. She has her own grief that she's dealing with and sometimes, you just can't open up to someone unless they've experienced it themselves.


There's a scene in a motel parking lot with Doug after being robbed by one of her clients where she breaks down and finally acknowledges that she's not ok. Part of what got her into her line of work was this idea of empowerment and that she's the one in control. This couldn't be farther from the truth and the vicious realities of her life continuously follow her around like a ghost. Her breaking point symbolizes her starting to give up the ghost.


Stewart's acting in the movie but in this scene particularly was so extraordinary because she's so angry and when you hold in anger, it comes out like lightning. Mallory's lighting comes from a sense of powerlessness. She's like a clock that won't strike midnight no matter how hard she tries. Throughout the movie, you get to know her through what you know is a facade and who she is when she finally stops putting up that facade.


The three actors are especially amazing when they act together. It's in those moments where they are so accurately identified. The first time I saw the film, I saw them as a box of chocolates. Gandolfini is the milk chocolate, (a silent vulnerability that slowly opens up its flavor) Stewart is the dark chocolate (complex and fierce) and Leo is the caramel chocolate (just like the others but with an extra sweetness).


The characters of Welcome To The Rileys are the story. Without them, there isn't one. Overall, Welcome To The Rileys is a film specifically made for Indie fans. There is no way someone who doesn't like independent cinema will be able to appreciate the film. Indies are addicting to some and Welcome To The Rileys will cinematically cuff those people to a heating vent where all the heat comes from phenomenal acting.

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