Stewart’s teenage, runaway stripper Mallory, real name Alison, forms an unlikely – completely platonic – relationship with James Gandolfini’s Doug, who lost his teenage daughter when she died in a car accident.
Since then Doug has spent four years having an affair with a waitress, while his wife Lois (Melissa Leo) hasn’t stepped outside of their house.
When Doug goes to New Orleans on a business trip, following the death of the woman he has been having an affair with, and meets Mallory, he finds his fatherly instincts coming to the fore, and tells Lois he won’t be coming back to their home for a while.
It’s the trigger Lois needs to finally step outside, and while she drives to New Orleans Doug makes an effort to improve Mallory’s living conditions, and teach her some basic life skills (making a bed, doing laundry regularly).
The father-daughter bond which grows between the two is sweet to watch, and I found myself liking both Doug and Mallory, even though the former is clearly running away from his problems at home and the latter is too stubborn to see how kind Doug is being.
Lois also draws our sympathies as the woman who locked herself inside her house because the last time she went out it ended in tragedy for her family. It takes a few scenes to realise that Lois hasn’t been outside in so long, and despite the quiet and serious nature of the film, the scenes where she tries to adjust the car seat, and then drives into a rubbish bin and a lamppost, are lighthearted, laugh out loud moments. Her reaction to what Doug has been doing in New Orleans is understandable, but she quickly comes to care for Mallory as much as he does, and slips back into the role of mother figure with ease.
The cast of Welcome to the Rileys is exquisite. All three actors convey a wealth of emotions on their faces. Leo looks like a woman who’s been blaming herself for the death of her daughter, Gandolfini like the father and husband who’s been trying so hard to maintain a sense of normalcy, Stewart like a little girl who has seen so much more than someone of her years should. There are few moments of high drama in Welcome to the Rileys, the pain of three people desperately in need of a path out of the darkness is enough.
Welcome to the Rileys isn’t afraid to take its time revealing the characters’ pasts. There is no mad rush to get it all in the open, just a slow burn, a feeling that there is something more behind the surface, and patient viewers are rewarded when those secrets eventually come out.
Bravely, there is no miracle rescue for Mallory – she makes it clear she is not a substitute for Doug and Lois’ lost daughter, and despite the pair’s efforts to help her, they know exactly the same thing. It’s brave because it would be so easy to have Mallory go back with Doug and Lois and live a happy, carefree life. Instead, and much more satisfying for the viewer, Mallory has to learn to stand on her own two feet, and that’s what the Rileys have given her the grounding to do. Rather than rescue her, they’ve helped her to start rescuing herself.
For Doug and Lois there is a happy ending, with the pair reconciling. There are many questions left to be answered, but from everything seen on screen, I felt comfortable knowing Lois and Doug had discussed, or would discuss, the rest of their problems off screen, and I didn’t need to see those discussions.
Welcome to the Rileys is a well-crafted, emotional film, packed with punch and three performances from three very talented actors. And not a glittering vampire in sight.