sat 19/10/2019

Welcome to the Rileys | reviews, news & interviews

Welcome to the Rileys

Welcome to the Rileys

Kristen Stewart's teenage stripper becomes a stand-in for a long-dead daughter

Playing dad: James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart in 'Welcome to the Rileys'

As supremely silly as they are, the Twilight movies are made watchable by Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan, whose combination of fidgetiness and aloofness puts me in mind of James Dean’s Cal Trask and Jim Stark. If not as virtuosic as Dean (she's as beautiful), Stewart has made Bella as potent an empathy-figure for today’s alienated teenage girls with Gothic fantasy lives as Dean made Cal and Jim for would-be rebellious youths in the Fifties. You can fully understand why she has millions of female fans.

With her latest role, however, Stewart flies in the face of Bella’s virginal cool by bravely playing a character with whom only a lunatic would identify. The risk to her popularity was minuscule since the Twilight legions were never going to turn up to watch Jake Scott’s Welcome to the Rileys when it opened in the US a year ago: it made just $153,000 domestically.

Foul-mouthed and feral, the kohl-eyed stripper-prostitute portrayed by Stewart in Scott’s indie is a battery of neurotic tics: Mallory nibbles her fingers, scratches her undefined lips, and shakes one foot mechanically. There are bruises on her calves from pole dancing. Her hair is unkempt, her skin waxy. In her wilful self-neglect, she is pitiful.

Strung-out and slummocky, Mallory is more convincing than the film itself

This 16-year-old apparition could, in a different life, be Bella’s sister - the promiscuous one who acted out and vanished, leaving Bella uncertain, unsmiling and ill-equipped to deal with rejection. There’s no such sister, of course, in the Twilight movies to rationalise Bella’s depressiveness, isolation and her attraction to the undead and the vulpine - though part of it stems from her parents’ split. But Stewart makes Mallory so defensive and evasive, so willing to offer a lap dance or oral sex in lieu of explanations, that we know she has a history fraught with abuse and betrayals.

Following her stealthy, brooding Joan Jett in The Runaways, her performance in ...Rileys complicates the actress’s image, which has been founded on passivity and wryness. Not that Bella is archetypal. In making her moodier and less knowing than most high-school movie heroines, and bequeathing her her own shyness, Stewart has maintained the character’s elusiveness; no mean feat to pull off over the course of three blockbusters (with the fourth out this week and the fifth due this time next year).

Mallory, in contrast, is an imploding force of nature. In her fishnet hold-ups and gloves, she is less the hard-boiled hooker she imagines herself to be than a lamb in vixen’s clothing, a child playing brutalising adult games. Strung-out and slummocky, Mallory is more convincing than the film itself, for along comes a well-to-do plumber, Doug Riley (James Gandolfini), grieving for his dead daughter, to attempt her rescue.

Indianapolis suburbanites, Doug and his wife Lois (Melissa Leo, pictured right with Stewart) buried their teenager eight years previously after she was killed in a car crash. He assuages his pain in affairs; she has become an agoraphobic. On a New Orleans business convention, he “stumbles” - as out-of-towners are wont to do - into an especially sleazy strip club where Mallory is half-heartedly performing. He rejects her crude sexual advances, implausibly moves into and cleans her rundown apartment, and fines her for saying “fuck”. Next comes Lois, surmounting her demons to chase him to New Orleans, to complete the makeshift Riley family.

As both fairy tale and three-way psychological case study, Scott’s melodrama, written by Ken Hixon, is overly schematic, but it’s not without reality checks: as when Mallory flees into the night yelling back at her surrogate parents, “I’m nobody’s little girl - it’s too late for that shit!” As damaged as Mallory is, Stewart gives her the bitter integrity of someone who, having made her bed, is going to lie in it. She has her principles: “I don’t do anal, German Shepherds or porno tapes,” she tells Doug, who’s more intent on unblocking her toilet. One john leaves her with a busted lip. Though we don’t expect the movie to set up a situation where another “daughter” could die on Doug and Lois, it makes it clear that Mallory courts death every day. Stewart is so compelling that we start to worry about what will become of her and, by extension, Doug and Lois.

Watch the trailer to Welcome to the Rileys

Playing against his threatening bulk, Gandolfini is a sympathetic presence here - his paternal tenderness for Mallory expressed in body language not words, though they barely touch. If, on the surface, Lois seems too ready to accept that her unfaithful husband is now living chastely with a sex worker, it’s because she understands, as no one else might, that it’s fatherhood he craves, not an affair with a raddled waif. Leo hasn’t got as barnstorming a role here as she had in The Fighter, but she makes the most of the scenes in which, struggling with wide open spaces and the highway, she heads south, and those in which she bonds with the scarecrow Mallory, who, of course, begins to change. In the sweetest maternal scene, Lois takes Mallory shopping to replace her X-certificate lingerie with pretty pastel underwear.

Scott astutely resisted any temptation to stylise ...Rileys. As on his 1999 highwayman romp Plunkett & Macleane, he demonstrates respect for grunginess, which can seldom be said these days for his dad, Ridley, and uncle, Tony, who have executive-producer credits here. If the movie isn’t as squalid as it could’ve been, it’s because Doug, not Mallory, is the protagonist and it’s his trajectory that dictated the look. Initially an open wound, Stewart’s Mallory provides all the rawness the picture can handle.

  • Welcome to the Rileys is on UK release from Friday
Stewart flies in the face of Bella’s virginal cool by playing a character with whom only a lunatic would identify

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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