Dealing with the sensitive issue of losing a child, Welcome To The Rileys allows Jake Scott to prove he is perfectly capable of dealing with such matters delicately, adding a shrewd sense of realism to agoraphobia and adultery, the coping mechanisms Doug (Gandolfini) and Lois (Leo) adopt on the death of their daughter.
With the negativity of the couple’s situation laid on rather thick and fast from the outset, it may come across as a little unnatural, but serves as a rather blatant indication that this isn’t going to be a particularly easy ride for anyone involved.
Introduced to Doug as a man who struggles in a crowd and Lois as a woman who cannot venture so far out of her house as to check the mail, their thirty-year marriage has no sense of communication beyond face level, with any interaction stilted and awkward. After venturing to New Orleans for a work conference, Doug escapes group interaction, finding solace in a bar where he meets a young stripper, Mallory (Stewart). With some great subtle comedy moments between them, they form a very unconventional friendship and, while never completely assuming the role of father, Gandolfini brings a tender mixture of concern and paternal instinct, teaching Mallory the basics from how to fold a bed to looking after her money.
Where Mallory has found an unexpected sense of security in Doug, and at times finds it very hard to be told what to do, she never becomes an over the top firecracker, Stewart keeping just the right side of irritating and brazen to instead provide an affecting and intuitive performance. Mallory’s vulnerability is evident throughout, Stewart never lets us believe she’s unbreakable and the choice of leaving out a lot of specifics from her life luckily detracts from any potential sob story.
A rather quiet film, the pace really picks up once Lois makes the decision to drive to New Orleans, providing some incredibly tragicomic moments from Leo. Though the idea of Lois crossing state borders is hard to fathom, it proves just how much her marriage means to her, finding it impossible not to assume a maternal position once she enters the household Doug and Mallory share.
There is some striking attention to detail in the way Lois lays Mallory’s underwear on the bed and cuts the labels out, an incredibly subtle, but realistic activity a mother would genuinely relish in. Though Lois and the teenager she is trying to mother are worlds apart, Mallory does not always resist the mothering, resulting in some very tender moments. And while there’s only so long the jittery stripper can deal with being expected to follow instruction, it’s a shame, then, that a rather pivotal confrontation involving the two never quite hits as hard as you want.
With clichés waived in favour of organic progression, the film never comes across as inflated and Mallory’s stripper persona doesn’t venture on caricature. Scott’s choice, with scriptwriter Ken Hixon, to opt for an ending you possibly wouldn’t expect is also entirely welcome. Under its very capable direction, Welcome To The Rileys really hits its stride when having a bit of fun, but is ultimately a little unmemorable in the grand scheme of things.