Directed by Jake Scott, Welcome to the Rileys, which opened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, has been greeted by mixed-to-lukewarm reviews.
For the most part, reviewers have faulted Ken Hixon's screenplay about a grieving couple (James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo) whose marriage has all but crumbled following the death of their young daughter.
During a trip to New Orleans, the husband meets up with a teenage stripper/sex worker (Kristen Stewart) whom he decides to rescue from a life of long poles, red lights, and loud music.
Below are review snippets from various publications.
“It's exactly the kind of movie the big Hollywood studios can't be bothered to make anymore: a small, adult drama in which no one gets shot or dies and there's not a superhero or robot in sight. One doesn't want to oversell Welcome – it's well-done without being life-changing – but it's a welcome reminder that if a movie offers a compelling story and characters, sometimes that's plenty.” Leah Rozen, TheWrap.
“Ken Hixon's script artlessly spells out the leads' psychological motivations, leaving little doubt that Gandolfini is looking for a surrogate for a dead daughter whose presence he still feels keenly, while Stewart is looking for a father figure and a little stability. The bluntness wouldn't be so oppressive if the film weren't so austere and glacially paced: Welcome To The Rileys is way too humorless for a film in which Stewart repeatedly refers to her genitals as her 'cooter.'” Nathan Rabin, A.V. Club.
“What keeps the film's fragile realism intact are actors who can make even small moments count, as when Lois beams at Doug with eager pleasure, or when Doug strokes Mallory's head as she's sleeping, a touch that evokes his loss far better than any expository passage.” Manohla Dargis, The New York Times.
“It's not perfect, the ending … doing damage to the subtle build-up of emotion, but the performances are so intricate and nuanced that you're willing to let it slide. Gandolfini and Leo are completely believable as a couple that haven't quite lost their love, simply buried it deep within a home where the only real heartbeat comes from the sad ticking of a clock. … That you might break such a delicate thing simply by observing it is part of the film's magic.” Nick Da Costa, Eye for Film.
“Thanks to Leo and the way she brings Gandolfini to attention in their scenes together, the movie is at its wisest when it explores the Rileys' strained 30-year marriage …. And so the best moments of Welcome to the Rileys don't include its most bankable star at all. Well-played, Kristen Stewart. An anti-star is born.” Dan Kois, OC Weekly.
“As a whole, though, Welcome to the Rileys tiptoes around its emotions without ever committing to them. You're glad it's not 'Tony and Bella's Big Adventure' even as you suspect that might have been a lot more fun.” Ty Burr, The Boston Globe.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
The most curious Welcome to the Rileys commentary among those listed below belongs to The [New Jersey] Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty, who compares Jake Scott's psychological family drama to Martin Scorsese's psychological social drama Taxi Driver, and James Gandolfini's grieving middle-class Midwesterner to Robert De Niro's taxi-driving sociopath/New Yorker.
Now, Kristen Stewart's teen sex worker Mallory undeniably does have a number of elements in common with Jodie Foster's Oscar-nominated Iris in Scorsese's 1976 classic, though Stewart's Mallory is older than Foster's Iris. Foster, in fact, was about 12/13 years old when Taxi Driver was made.
“Like the lives examined here, the film doesn't always work. … Scott is still too tentative with his actors and hampered by a script that keeps trying to fix too many of Mallory's problems with new clothes and clean sheets. Fortunately Stewart seems to thrive in water over her head, and when she pulls Gandolfini in with her the movie jells. It makes you wish the filmmaker had left them in the deep end longer.” Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times.
“If we need another movie about unhappy middle-aged married people who have to be jolted out of their complacency so they can learn that life really is worth living, then Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys is hardly the worst result we could hope for.” Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline.
“Jake Scott's nicely self-contained drama is a solid piece of filmmaking, built on an unfussy, honest script and three beautifully understated and brave performances.” Marshall Fine, The Huffington Post.
“Had this glumly lit movie … been based on a novel or the archives of the long-running 'Can This Marriage Be Saved?' column in Ladies' Home Journal, the filmmakers' attachment to arbitrary building blocks of plot might have been more forgivable. As an original indie drama, though, the overload of soapsuds (and the production's excessive attention to on-location squalor) at times overwhelms the earnest performances of the three very good lead actors.” Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly.
“Welcome to the Rileys has a great script from screenwriter Ken Hixon, and will surely push Scott to the forefront of the movie directing world. … Scott was able to prove with his second movie that he knows how to create and build characters and their relationships with others. He also proved that he knows how to pick the right cast, as both Ganolfini [sic] and Stewart perfected roles that are out of their comfort zones.” Karen Bernadello, shockya.com.
“Welcome to the Rileys isn't as creepy or as smaltzy [sic] as it could have been. The script, if handled inappropriately or in a blunt manner could have led to a horrendous hallmark movie. But due to subdued and patient direction from Jake Scott and a trio of terrific performances, Welcome to the Rileys is a film filled with well-earned heart.” Jack Giroux, The Film Stage.
“Did you ever wonder what Taxi Driver; would have been like if Travis actually had been a nice, married, middle-aged Midwesterner with a wholesale plumbing-supplies business?
Oh, and also, if he didn't go off the rails at the end and blow away a whole East Village tenement full of pimps and gangsters? But just cleaned Iris' apartment, and introduced her to his wife?
No. And neither have I.
But I wonder if Ken Hixon, the screenwriter of Welcome to the Rileys, has.” Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Kristen Stewart as the stripper/prostitute Mallory in Welcome to the Rileys
Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys, written by Ken Hixon, and starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, and Kristen Stewart, is no “Bella Does New Orleans,” despite being known in some circles as “Kristen Stewart's Stripper Movie.”
Stewart's reviews have been mostly positive, though without being necessarily enthusiastic. There have also been some – quite loud – naysayers who insist she can't act.
Below are a few review snippets from various publications. Two more posts featuring Stewart's Welcome to the Rileys reviews will follow shortly.
“And Kristen Stewart — well, yes, once again she's got a bad case of the mopes. But the flashes of rage convince. And physically — bruised, broken-out, filthy — she does everything she can to avoid any Hollywood touches. (Her fingernails alone look like 10 staph infections.)” Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger.
“… Stewart's one-note range is a stumbling block. She's almost always in foul-mouthed and ungrateful mode, so it's a stretch to imagine that this ordinary couple would be inspired to play surrogate parents.
“Stewart's idea of inhabiting this part seems to be to scowl a lot and let her hair go unwashed. The Twilight star doesn't have the depth or emotional agility to go toe-to-toe with Gandolfini and Leo. She emerges as a wretched caricature.” Claudia Puig, USA Today.
“Mallory is similar to Doug and Mallory, but her emotions are more furious and uncontrollable. Stewart holds her own with Gandolfini and Leo once again proving when she's outside of the Twilight universe, she's capable of so much more.” Jack Giroux, The Film Stage.
“Kristen Stewart sheds her Twilight image in this gritty drama, playing a New Orleans stripper and prostitute in a performance that screams 'take me seriously.' While she achieves her goal – perfecting every tic and hair fling of this bruised 16-year-old runaway – the rest of the movie falls short.” Thelma Adams, US Magazine.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Kristen Stewart, Welcome to the Rileys
I'm not sure how many reviewers were aware that Kristen Stewart was cast in Welcome to the Rileys before the Twilight movies became a cultural phenomenon. (As was the case with Walter Salles' upcoming On the Road.)
Also, it's worth remembering that Welcome to the Rileys was shot in the fall of 2008, between the first Twilight and The Twilight Saga: New Moon. In other words, prior to both the Bella of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and the Joan Jett of The Runaways.
Below are more Kristen Stewart review snippets. The last Stewart/Welcome to the Rileys collection of reviews will be posted shortly.
“A special mention has to go to Kristen Stewart who strips herself bare, both literally and figuratively. It's the details that matter here, not some petulant one-note image drummed up by the press. The rawness of the stripper's uniform, profane, all panda eyes and duct-taped nipples contrasted with the timid girl scrubbed of make-up, pulling sweater cuffs over her hands and picking at her acne.” Nick Da Costa, Eye for Film.
“The cast does well enough in their roles, although this movie isn't likely to be a career highlight for any of them. … Kristen Stewart also turns in decent work as Mallory; even as she gets pushed from lead to supporting character over the course of the movie, she keeps the girl an consistent but changing individual.” Jay Seaver, efilmcritic.com.
“Stewart appears to have been constricted by the rigid parameters of the Twilight movies. Her character here is wary, not trusting ([a]s Bella is), and maybe for that reason, she seems to take pleasure in a role that requires one long, kicking-and-screaming 'No!' But two-thirds of the way through the movie, she hints with her eyes that she's possibly considering a 'maybe.'” Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline.
“But Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys is so underwritten that, despite a more energetic performance [than her Joan Jett in The Runaways], Stewart makes much less of an impression. … Try as Stewart might, she can't turn this Manic Trixie Nightmare Girl into a real person.” Dan Kois, OC Weekly.
“Stewart, who was cast in the film before the Twilight tsunami hit, continues to gravitate to characters that the world has roughed up, with Mallory a few shades darker than the actress' well-crafted young Joan Jett in The Runaways earlier this year. She just gets better at bringing a naked vulnerability to her performances. Here it's like watching a slide show of anger, pain, innocence, outrage and mischief play across her face.” Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times.
“More often than not, the Twilight movies downgrade Stewart's talent from credible understatement to a plastic vision of post-adolescent frustration. In Welcome to the Rileys, the second feature from music video director Jake Scott, Stewart delivers the legitimate version of that archetype with a role that rejects commercial standards.” Eric Kohn, indieWIRE.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Final round of Kristen Stewart reviews for her role as the teenage pole dancer / sex worker Mallory in Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys. As to be expected, most reviews found it impossible not to compare Mallory to the Twilight Saga's Bella Swan, with Mallory, of course, coming out on top.
A Samuel Goldwyn Films release, Welcome to the Rileys opens today in New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston.
“Stewart has the habit of biting her bottom lip, a gesture she should be careful not to overuse. But she's a captivating blend of fragility and strength. It's obvious that Doug's attempts to tame her can only partially succeed.” Jake Coyle, the Associated Press (via macleans.ca).
“Rileys has been casually dubbed 'Kristen Stewart's stripper movie,' but the handle doesn't stick: Stewart may wear skimpy clothes and grind once or twice from the neck down, but from the neck up she's all hollow, bruised eyes, twisted little mouth, and classic, coltish K-Stew rebellion.” Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly.
“As she has elsewhere, Ms. Stewart twitches her way through too many scenes, a habit that might become difficult to shake. But she's an exceptionally appealing screen presence, and she makes Mallory's confusion — the swings between vulgar braggadocio and clutching vulnerability — reverberant and real. … [Jake Scott's camera point up Mallory's skirt] signal that she has graduated from her role as a professional virgin in the Twilight series.” Manohla Dargis, The New York Times.
“As for Kristen Stewart, she proves without a doubt that she can hold her own in any movie, and is not tied in any way to her character of Bella in the Twilight Saga ….” Daemon's Movies.
“I want to say that Welcome to the Rileys stars two good actors and Kristen Stewart, but that's not only mean, it misrepresents the case. …
“Stewart? As usual, she's just there, but I can't think of another young actress who makes her there-ness work so well.” Ty Burr, The Boston Globe.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Kristen Stewart is a pole dancer / sex worker in Welcome to the Rileys
James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart are praised in Jake Coyle's Associated Press review of Jake Scott's Welcome to the Rileys.
The film itself gets a detailed plot description, good words for Scott's understated direction, and a major complaint about Ken Hixon's screenplay of the “save-the-prostitute-with-a-golden-heart” variety.
Below are a couple of snippets in which Coyle discusses Gandolfini and Stewart:
The scenes between Doug and Mallory are the best thing in Welcome to the Rileys …. Gandolfini, with a believable and not overstated Southern accent, plays reformer. Stewart, in what may be her best performance yet, warms to his caring while vacillating between hard rage.
She's all elbows, shifty eyes and a nest of hair. Stewart has the habit of biting her bottom lip, a gesture she should be careful not to overuse. But she's a captivating blend of fragility and strength.
Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films