A dark movie about hope. Star powered, intense subject matter. Beautifully written and acted brilliantly. Welcome to the Rileys stars James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo and Kristen Stewart in a star-crossed, painful and tragic story of love and healing. The story is based on the fleeting image of a young stripper that writer Jake Scott glimpsed in a club in New Orleans 10 years ago while in that city for a wedding. Haunted by her vulnerability, Scott wrote the story.
The Rileys, a middle-aged couple who lost their only child 8 years prior in a fiery car wreck, are operating on empty. Their pain has ripped them apart so completely that their separateness becomes an entity unto itself. It has taken on a life of its own, a life bigger and stronger than either one. Doug finds some solace at the local diner, pancakes and an affair with the waitress there. They care and respect each other, both knowing it can never be more than it is. Lois is in a self-imposed exile, punishing herself by stopping all life at her door. She's become agoraphobic and cannot leave the house, cannot continue with her life because of the guilt she feels at having followed her daughter on the night of the wreck. She believes it was her fault because she chased her daughter and the young boy she was out with that fateful night.
Doug's mistress dies very suddenly, leaving him raw and ravaged. He was planning on taking her to a conference in New Orleans for her birthday and all this uncontrollable pain is too much for him. Crying silently in his garage, Lois stands helpless on the other side of the door, frozen in agony. Wanting to help him, console him, but she cannot. Love equals loss, and she cannot bear to lose any more than she already has.
He arrives in New Orleans amidst the usual jocular, obnoxious characters at the annual plumbing conference but he is out of sorts. He is brittle, shattered and very lost, but hiding his confusion and suffering. Trying to escape from some colleagues on the street, he ducks into a strip club and sits at the bar. Allison (played so amazingly by Kristen Stewart) is skinny, worn, and dirty. She saunters up and puts her crotch in his face. This is not the kind of man he is. He is embarrassed because she's so young and he feels fatherly toward her. She's confused and running on empty and it takes a long while before she gets that he's not a cop, not a "fag", not the usual disgusting person she meets on a daily basis.
They eventually form a bond of sorts. A lot of two steps forward, one step back. Allison becomes the catalyst to shaking his life and his marriage to the core. His kindness is completely foreign to her. Her only currency is sex and being abused, and she really has a hard time accepting his decency. He becomes the beginning of a glimpse of another world.
Kristen Stewart gives an amazing, award-worthy performance. So much so that when she was researching the role with writer/director Jake Scott in New Orleans, she was offered a job at a strip club. She had stopped washing her hair and wearing makeup and was truly taken for a homeless stripper. The location is a character unto itself, highlighting not the glitz and splendor, but the seedy underbelly of this historic place. The soundtrack was disturbing at times and caught the tension and futility of this movie.
I'm not sure I'd want to see this in the theater, but I'm sure it will get lots of box office because of Kristen Stewart and all her Twilight fans, and I'm glad for that. It is a great movie and it should be seen and appreciated. There is a whole world out there of young and abused teenagers, and as a society we mostly push it under the rug. What can one small bit of kindness do? See this movie and find out.