How does a movie starring Kristen Stewart muddle its way to a total U.S. gross of less than $200,000? Sometimes, the product does matter.
Welcome to the Rileys premiered in the Dramatic Competition of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, when Stewart was the “it” girl also featured in the hot-ticket premiere The Runaways. In Rileys, she plays Allison, a teenage pole-dancer/hooker in New Orleans. Meaty enough role for a young actress trying to showcase her edgier side, right?
But here’s the rest of the set-up: Doug and Lois Riley (James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo) are a suburban couple who have been living the kind of mournful half-marriage that happens in somber Sundance movies as the result of an info-to-be-parcelled-out-over-100-minutes tragedy. Doug is having a joyless affair; Lois has become a house-bound agoraphobic. When Doug goes on a business trip to NOLA, he meets Allison, and quicker than you can say “surrogate daughter,” he’s trying to take care of her and get her off the streets.
You can probably figure out the schematic narrative dynamics from that point forward, except that writer Ken Hixon and director Jake Scott (Ridley’s son) throw in the curve ball of having Lois attempt to overcome her crippling anxiety and take a road trip to find Doug. Because there’s nothing like taking a profound emotional illness and turning it into a little cheap comic relief.
Gandolfini has played this kind of vaguely hen-pecked guy before, and he’s quite good at it for someone best know as a ruthless mobster. But he’s mostly left to play off Stewart, who takes her familiar, petulantly breathy delivery and tries to turn it into a hard-edged street kid. Then again, this isn’t a role that’s built for real acting; it’s a necessary plot contrivance to allow the catharsis and healing to commence. The whole narrative simply meanders along with all the enthusiasm of something built entirely out of foregone conclusions.