WELCOME TO THE RILEYS is a little sign on the garage doors of Doug and Lois Riley in Indianapolis, Indiana. It also serves as the title of this fine little film written by Ken Hixon and directed by Jake Scott that examines how the loss of a 15-year-old daughter Emily in an automobile accident has resulted in the crumbling of the parent's marriage and relationship. Doug (James Gandolfini) has an affair with younger waitress Vivian (Eisa Davis) while Lois (Melissa Leo) becomes so isolated in her agoraphobic state and psychotropic mediations that she is no longer available to Doug. A crisis occurs when Vivian dies in cardiac arrest and in Doug's honest grief he visits her grave only to find that Lois has unilaterally purchased a headstone with Doug's and Lois' names on it beside the grave of their departed Emily, a fact that enrages Doug.
Doug goes to New Orleans on a convention and there encounters stripper/prostitute Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a 16 year old unkempt, foul mouthed runaway from Florida: Mallory sees the kind Doug as a john but Doug's interest is in her plight, not her business offerings. Doug obviously responds to Mallory as though she were his lost daughter, moving into her filthy apartment, trying to improve her view of life. Doug phones Lois that he is going to stay in New Orleans a while, a message that gives Lois the courage to actually leave her home and drive to New Orleans: during Lois' somewhat comedic trip she stops for food and a strange man comes on to her - something that awakens her self esteem before she reaches New Orleans. Once Lois arrives at her destination she is proud of overcoming her agoraphobia and Doug is happy to see the healing Lois. Together they stay with Mallory, facing the fact that for both of them Mallory represents the chance to restore their love for the daughter they've lost. How the three cope is the remaining of the film.
The three leads offer polished performances - some of the finest work we have seen from both Gandolfini and Leo who together make this film better than the sum of its parts. Kristen Stewart immerses herself in Mallory and though she still remains a rather monochromatic actress, this role offers her the ability to stretch her acting chops: she is convincing as the victim of the dregs of society and makes us care about a character who seems to have few redeeming qualities. This trio of actors plays well as a small ensemble and the result is a film that has been far too overlooked by the general public. Recommended. Grady Harp, February 11