The first major Kristen Stewart film of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival debuted at the Racquet Club theater this afternoon in Park City, Utah and the results were certainly disappointing. Directed by Ridley Scott's son, Jake, "Welcome to the Rileys" features fine performances by stars James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Stewart, but the screenplay is almost pointless and the film moves at a glacial pace.
Mostly set in New Orleans, "Rileys" finds Gandolfini as a middle aged married man from Indianapolis whose life is at a crossroads. His wife (Leo) hasn't left the house since their 15-year-old daughter died in a car accident almost 10 years prior and his only escape, his growing relationship with a waitress, ends after she suddenly passes away from a heart attack. While at a convention in The Big Easy he runs into a young stripper named Mallory (Stewart) who strikingly reminds him of his deceased daughter. While Mallory -- we later discover her real name is Alison -- is looking for more money in the back room (she prostitutes on the side), Gandolfini is transfixed on trying to help her. After dramatically informing his wife he plans on staying in New Orleans and selling his business to do so, the three protagonists find themselves converging down south where more secrets are revealed to the characters and the audience. Unfortunately, besides the daring lengths Stewart goes to for the role (more on that later) it's not as exciting as it seems on paper.
As expected, the actors are all game trying to bring a realistic three-dimensionality to the characters -- a difficult task considering the clinched themes of the screenplay. Gandolfini has the toughest task trying to convince audiences why his character would make such a big jump, but he mostly succeeds (even if his southern accent jumps in and out at times). Leo is the most impressive of the three as she brings this shattered woman and "perfect mom" slowly out of her shell. Stewart has the gutsiest role as she shows a sexual side she's never displayed to this level before. Fishnets, huge high heels, some revealing rear end shots and running around in her underwear aside, Mallory/Alison is a foulmouthed kid who will pretty much do anything but one specific sexual act not prime for publication. And yes, you'll words come out of Stewart's mouth you may never hear again over what should be a long cinematic career.
The biggest problem with the film has to be Jake Scott's direction. He's smartly hired actors who can bring the roles to life, but his sense of tone is significantly off (there are way too many unintentionally funny moments) and unlike his father or uncle Tony, he has absolutely zero sense of pacing. The film is 1:45 before credits, but most audiences will feel as though it's well past the 2 hour mark by the time it ends. This Ridley needs a little more experience if he's going to prove his filmmaking talent really is up to his family's legacy. To be honest, it's very disappointing the film even made it into the festival's dramatic competition. While the field hasn't been completely screened so far, "Rileys" would have been much more appropriate in the premieres category.
As for distribution, the dark and slow "Welcome to the Rileys" is a very tough sell. As "The Yellow Handkerchief" has shown, just having the "Twilight Saga" superstar in a movie doesn't guarantee pick up and many distributors will have to question whether there is a real audience beyond the big city art house scene and the most loyal of Stewart fans.
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