May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by Ken Hixon
Directed by Jake Scott
Starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo
Gandolfini is a grieving father who lost a child a few years prior and has been going through life aimlessly in a listless marriage, hitting notes at bare-minimum as a husband, friend and neighbor, while wallowing silently in his own misery, carrying on an affair and chain smoking his way silently through life. Melissa Leo, as his wife, is helpless. She talks to friends (like Ally Sheedy in what essentially amounts to a cameo) but is also helpless. Gandolfini goes to New Orleans on a business trip and meets Stewart’s Mallory by happenstance. They take an awkward shining to each other and strike up an innocent friendship. This awakens Gandolfini’s character and this previously lethargic film from a depressed slumber.
Welcome to the Rileys sparkles once Stewart’s character enters the story. She’s very naturalistic, energetic and mesmerizing in the best performance of her career. She’s foul mouthed but sweet natured Mallory, a wayward teen stripper. Gandolfini’s character is drawn to her immediately in a paternal capacity upon their crossing paths. He was once a father and sees the opportunity arise once more and reinvents himself in N.O. as Stewart’s surrogate guardian/mentor, living with Mallory and trying to provide some much needed stability, an effort which Mallory neither fights or encourages. Melissa Leo, distraught and unwilling to lose her family, soon follows, despite an overwhelming case of agoraphobia. The rest of the film is about Gandolfini and Leo coming to terms with where their relationship has gone in the wake of their own daughter’s passing and what Stewart’s presence in their lives means for the future.
It gets a bit saccharine and self-consciously gritty at points, but Gandolfini and Stewart’s characters are believable enough that they propel the film along enjoyably with some humor injected in their performances. It’s like a more innocent, straight-forward version of the Jodie Foster-Robert DeNiro relationship in Taxi Driver.
The ending isn’t particularly amazing and the story isn’t very original, but the beats and the performances elevate the material substantially. Stewart steals the show, Gandolfini does his character justice, Melissa Leo is alright, but nothing special and the story is engaging but not particularly memorable.