Who’s In It: Kristen Stewart, James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, Ally Sheedy
The Basics: Years after losing their teenage daughter in a car crash, Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (Melissa Leo) are a study in suburban Midwestern misery. She’s a home-bound agoraphobe, terrified of the outside world; he finds a new project to love while on a business trip to New Orleans: 16-year-old runaway Mallory (Kristen Stewart), a foul-mouthed stripper and part-time hooker who fulfills Doug’s paternal yearnings and helps heal his broken marriage. Most folks would try therapy before adopting a complete stranger -- but this is indie cinemaland, where characters defy convention!
What’s The Deal: Implausibility aside, this ensemble character piece is watchable thanks to its three central performers – Stewart, Gandolfini and Leo – and their efforts to put their own raw, distinct spin on familiar indie film stereotypes. Gandolfini in particular is an atypical hero in the middle-aged suburban man-in-crisis category, partly owing to the specter of Tony Soprano that lingers around his person like a shadow, so it’s a special thing to watch him grasping, broken and sad, at the new purpose he finds in the seedy ruins of post-Katrina New Orleans. Stewart and Leo breathe believable emotional texture into otherwise clichéd characters – the prostitute and the housewife – that in lesser hands might have been disastrously one-dimensional. Together, these three damaged humans push and pull their way toward progress, inch by anguished inch, leaving the audience at least impressed by the group acting effort.
Kristen Stewart, Down And Dirty: To his credit, director Jake Scott (spawn of Ridley) is unafraid of painting an ugly picture of the world, and even less afraid of plopping his respectable actors into the worst of it. He films the hyper-twitchy Stewart, frequently half-clothed and garishly made up, in sleazy strip clubs, illicit motels, and flophouse digs with relish; she, in turn, displays an admirable commitment to embracing her character, facial blemishes and bruises and filthy hair and all. Welcome to the Rileys is the Twilight starlet’s grimiest role to date – and in a year that saw her puke and party as Runaway punk rocker Joan Jett, that’s saying something. But parents, beware: With Stewart’s stream of vulgar expletives, underage sexual propositions, and constant “cooter” talk, this isn’t appropriate viewing for the tween set.
Totally The First Time Kristen Stewart Has Ever Played A Troubled Teen In The Hurricane-Ravaged American South. Uh, Except For: The Yellow Handkerchief, the independent drama from earlier this year in which Stewart plays a promiscuous teenage runaway who bonds platonically with an older man and a third mentally challenged companion and helps the middle-aged man reunite emotionally with his estranged wife against the backdrop of the metaphorically damaged-but-healing post-Katrina south.
Blink And You’ll Miss: Ally Sheedy as Leo’s exasperated sister Harriet, who passive aggressively chides the grieving Lois to get out of the house before breezing out of the film, her day on set complete.