Friday, October 22, 2010

“Welcome To The Rileys” – Movie Review

Last night in my movie class, we saw the drama, “Welcome To The Rileys”, starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart. 

When a couple is driven apart after the death of their daughter, they meet a teenage runaway whom they care for – but will this newly-formed family be enough to improve everyone’s life?
Things have gotten so bad between Doug and Lois (Gandolfini and Leo) that she’s overlooking his cheating and he takes no interest in her acute agoraphobia and loss of libido.  Although together for 30 years, their marriage has been strained recently since the death of their 15 year old daughter in an automobile accident.  They’re both relieved when opportunity for a break arises when Doug leaves their Indianapolis home to attended a work – related convention in New Orleans where he will promote his plumbing supply business. 

Upon arriving in The Big Easy, Doug soon bails out on his colleagues and lands in a strip bar where he’s hustled by Mallory (Stewart), a young dancer offering more intimate entertainment in the expensive VIP Room.  Although initially steadfastly resisting, he ultimately relents when he spots some of his business associates enter the club; with nowhere to exit and too embarrassed to be seen by them all by himself in this den of iniquity, Doug decides to take up Mallory on her offer.  But once they get their privacy, Doug insists that nothing happen between them, so she leaves.  On a chance meeting later, he offers to drive her home, where she lives in squalor in a run-down house long overdue to be condemned.  Feeling sorry for her, he decides to move in, fix up the place a bit and take care of the girl by adopting the role of a surrogate father. 

Eventually, Doug calls Lois and tells her he’s not returning; stunned by this news, she overcomes her psychological fears and somehow manages to drive all the way down to New Orleans to meet with her husband.  Once there, she learns from Doug about his paternal relationship with Mallory.  After meeting the girl and seeing her surroundings, Lois decides to move in with them and aid Doug in parenting this teenager.  But when they both realize that Mallory is in no way similar to their deceased daughter, will their attempt to forge a support system for this girl merely result in driving a greater wedge in their marriage?

Leading off this review, let’s get one thing out of the way, the thing that many would likely want to ignore, but can’t.  It is virtually impossible to look at Gandolfini on the big screen and not be able to see him as the legendary HBO series TV character of Tony Soprano; unfortunately, he was a little too successful in that role and it will probably remain something of an albatross around the neck of his acting career for the remainder of his days.  But there are other things distracting about his performance – the fact that he’s supposed to be from Indiana and appears to have something of a southern accent, just to mention one small thing!  Or does he have a southern accent?  That’s the other problem – the accent lacks continuity; sometimes he has it, sometimes he doesn’t.  As you may already know, movie scenes are not necessarily shot in the order in which they may appear in the final movie – as a result, it would seem that there were some days when Gandolfini actually remembered to (incorrectly) have a southern accent and other days in which he did not.

But the fun doesn’t end there.  The pace of this movie is a little hard to take – it plods along and the artsy attempt by the filmmakers to establish the characters and their back-story in something of a layered approach is borderline infuriating.  Add to this the fact that the story doesn’t really go anywhere and everything adds up to one big frustrating experience.  It is fairly clear by the conclusion of this movie that the screenwriter didn’t really know how to end the story, so its resolution is somewhat anti-climactic.  Although I obviously don’t recommend this film, I must admit that there was a reasonably strong contingent in the class that claimed they liked it as a “slice of life” story.  I just wished the filmmakers could’ve provided a smaller slice. 

The evening, however, wasn’t a total loss because as often happens, the interview turns out to be the highlight on a night when the movie disappoints.  Visiting the class on this night was Steve Schirripa – AKA, Bobby Baccala  from “The Sopranos”, whom we recently saw in our bonus screening of Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter”.  A Brooklyn boy, he didn’t start out with an acting career in mind – in fact, he found his way into show business relatively late in life, not earning a living as an actor until he was in his 40’s.  Around 20 years ago, he ventured out to Las Vegas to be a bouncer and was soon invited to join performers in small roles in movies and TV shows shot in Los Angeles.  Returning to the east coast to attend a family wedding, he wound up getting an audition for “The Sopranos” about a decade ago and remained with the show until its end, when his character got “whacked”.  Schirripa told a great story about the wind-up of “The Sopranos”; he said that every week, there would be a read-through of the script for the next episode’s shooting – if your character was going to be hit, show creator David Chase would call you into his office before that week’s read-through so that you would be prepared for The End.  Schirripa said that in his case, Chase came over to his home to visit him; when he showed up at the front door, Chase allegedly said to him, “I guess you know why I’m here!”.  Schirripa said, “When he started off like that, I felt like I was getting bumped-off in real life!”.