Welcome to the Rileys
Directed by Jake Scott
The movie in which Bella Swan says "I can do oral" and "I'm not gonna fuck your German shepherd" is, in fact, a largely sober indie drama, directed by Ridley Scott's son, that inspired agreeable notices at Sundance 2010. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo play Doug and Lois Riley, the parents of a daughter who died some years ago. "Alive" only by a loose definition, the two are a wreck—she never leaves their Indianapolis home and has already purchased their headstones, and he's having a quiet affair with a hash slinger. They never discuss their daughter.
Doug owns a successful plumbing business, which at least keeps the couple clothed and fed, and which takes him to New Orleans for an industry conference, where he impulsively ducks into a strip club. He only wants to smoke and fret in the dark, but Mallory (Kristen Stewart) aggressively cajoles him into a private room. He remains a "talk job," and when she asks how old she looks, he says fifteen (the age his daughter died). He drives her home and decides to stay, setting his sights on orphan/stripper reform, using his plumbing and carpentry skills to rehab her rancid digs, and (more worrisomely) his unutilized fathering instincts to try to right Mallory's disastrous life. After several seat adjustment hijinks and minor fender benders (some of the movie's funniest moments), the confused and lonely Lois is miraculously able to drive down to Louisiana to join this warped alternate family.
The mixture of damaged, jes' folk Midwesterners outside their comfort zones, nonsexual, mutually life-affirming relationships with a sex worker, obligatory morbidity, and meticulously delayed revelations of character insight constitutes an obvious recipe for Indiewood paydirt, but the strength of the acting here tempers the groans. Gandolfini's hick accent sounds nothing like an Indianan's, but his striped button-downs, khakis, and belt-clipped cell nicely compliment his gentle giant comportment. He says he likes women his own age, and you believe his platonic good intentions. Leo's weathered visage and voice can be a shortcut to hard-won authenticity, but she's not coasting here; her impeccably coiffed suffering dignity is the movie's heart. Stewart will inevitably be called brave for going "dark" here, complete with herpetic blemish makeup, but her persecuted adolescent act (darting eyes, bitten lip) remains a fascinatingly dynamic thing to watch. A See! We're in New Orleans! line like "Wanna go around the corner for a po' boy?" is indicative of the screenplay's trite m.o., but no matter what it feeds these actors, it never comes across entirely ridiculous.
Opens October 29