Critical Mass: 'Welcome to the Rileys'
The critics are almost evenly split in their opinion of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival offering "Welcome to the Rileys." Despite the "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" appeal of seeing Tony Soprano paired on screen with Bella Swan (OK, James Gandolfini and Kristen Stewart) under the direction of Ridley Scott's son, Jake, reviews have been mixed to negative.The story concerns a grieving father (Gandolfini) who travels far from his suburban Indiana existence to New Orleans and takes a wayward stripper named Mallory (Stewart) under his wing. The actors, including Melissa Leo, are mostly getting good reviews, but it's the story that appears to be taking a drubbing.
Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey, one of the film's defenders, has many nice things to say about Gandolfini and Stewart, writing that "much of the pleasure of the film is watching Gandolfini and Stewart navigate a minefield pocked with stopped toilets, no electricity, arrests and even angry johns." She's less tolerant of Leo's scenes, noting "sometimes three's a crowd." But despite her fondness for the film as a whole, she's not as impressed by Scott, whom she says "is still too tentative with his actors and hampered by a script that keeps trying to fix too many of Mallory's problems with new clothes and clean sheets."
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis echoes Sharkey's praise (and criticism) of the film. She notes the clunky filmmaking as she describes the opening passage: "A pall hangs over their home, or more truly the film, which telegraphs its ideas — an absence of life, the absence of breath — a touch too loudly." But, once again, it's the top-drawer actors who save the day, or at least "keep the film's fragile realism intact." And despite the flashy, sex-infused filmography of his father and uncle (Tony Scott), the younger Scott gets kudos for avoiding nudity. She writes "To his credit, Mr. Scott doesn’t bother with the usual red-tinted strip club scenes (note to filmmakers: if you’ve seen one pole dance, you’ve seen them all)."
"Would you believe Kristen Stewart as an underage New Orleans stripper who hooks on the side?" writes Rolling Stone's Peter Travers in his brief (two paragraph) slam of the film. Gandolfini and Stewart's charms work on him, like everyone else, but alas, they're not enough to overcome his problems with the film, which he lays squarely at the feet of screenwriter Ken Hixon.
While other critics were busy picking apart their likes and dislikes of the film, Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern apparently had more important things on his mind. Here's the lede of his review: "While 'Welcome to the Rileys' was wending its way through a wearisome tale of depression and redemption, I kept thinking about telegraphy. Why do we still talk about telegraphing a punch when no one uses telegraphs any more? Why not email punches, or text them?" This is the kind of review that makes filmmakers weep.
And hand it to the notoriously catty Rex Reed to save his biggest insults for the last line of his pan. After praising the work of Gandolfini, Stewart and Leo, he unloads on the unseen filmmaking team: "You just wonder what Jake Scott, the director son of Ridley Scott, and Ken Hixon, the confused and inconsistent screenwriter, were smoking. Whatever it is, I'll have what they're having."
Luckily, Hixon and Scott aren't the only pair to receive the critical insults. Village Voice critic Dan Kois' negative review revolves around the premise that Stewart is at her most effective when she's nowhere on screen. "Try as Stewart might, she can’t turn this Manic Trixie Nightmare Girl into a real person," he writes, closing with, "And so the best moments of 'Welcome to the Rileys' don’t include its most bankable star at all. Well played, Kristen Stewart. An anti-star is born."
--Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: James Gandolfini represents a father figure to a wayward stripper played by Kristen Stewart in "Welcome to the Rileys." Samuel Goldwyn Films