Come for the Stripper, Stay for the Wife
Published on October 29th, 2010 | by Carlos J. Segura0
Back in 2002 I had the pleasure of watching a much younger Kristen Stewart in “Panic Room,” and I found myself taken in by her androgynous presence and cool ease; it made a tiny but lasting impression. She had a little something of her co-star, Jodie Foster, I felt. After I left the theater I predicted to myself that we’d be seeing more of this young girl in the years to come. Cut to the “Twilight” years. For the record I haven’t seen the films. I understand that actors need to be strategic with their careers so unlike others I’m acquainted with who were quick to begrudge her I still maintained my stance that this young girl had something good to offer. That said when “The Runaways” was released, which I also haven’t seen yet, I was pleased to read positive notices concerning the performance. So, it was with a taken-for-granted attitude that I walked into “Welcome to the Rileys.” I left the theater and I did come out impressed with a performance, though, it wasn’t Stewart’s. No, ladies and gentleman, this movie was stealthily stolen by Ms. Melissa Leo.
To better illustrate why Stewart’s performance, and character, are such a thorn in the movie’s side it’s best to start at the beginning. The Rileys, Doug and Lois, James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo, lost their daughter years ago and the trauma of her death has taken a psychic toll on them as evidenced by the melancholy compositions, unadorned settings, spare tinkling of the piano in the score and lack of basic communication between husband and wife. These moments are most effective when the camera is trained on Leo. When we first meet her character she is a tragic ice maiden who seems to be quite literally choked by grief and cloister. Doug’s more prone to being somewhere between mopey and brooding. To soothe his physical and emotional void Doug has been happy to be kept company on the odd night here and there for a period of a few years by a sweet waitress named Vivian. Not long into the movie Vivian dies.
Doug soon after finds himself going on a business trip to New Orleans where by chance he is forced to go into a strip club one day and makes the acquaintance of a piss-&-vinegar and obviously underage stripper named Mallory (Kristen Stewart). The relationship starts off hitting some sharp edges because, rightfully so, the young Mallory is wary of Doug because he’s well, not lecherous. Therefore he’s got to be a cop (her first assumption), a murderer, a human trafficker or who knows what else (just sayin’). What she doesn’t understand is that Doug sees in her a potential second chance, another daughter, or at the very least a respite from being entombed, essentially. What follows is a film which kind of plays like a would-be, kitchen sink “My Fair Lady” with the faintest hint of “Vertigo.” Except Kristen Stewart’s potty mouth makes Eliza Doolittle sound like Barbara Walters. The performance feels wildly overdone, one note and at times over-screamed, though, to be fair to Stewart, she isn’t given much of a character arc and what little character development comes her way is tacked on at the last minute. It’s a part that’s made to let people know that she’s not that little girl from the “Twilight” movie but an edgy and serious actress. Half of the mission accomplished.
You want a serious actress and a satiating character arc, sort of? Look no further than the sublime performance by Melissa Leo. Point blank, the filmmakers should have just centered the movie on her character. There is one scene in particular that is evidence that there was a more interesting, heartbreaking and heartwarming movie within “Welcome to the Rileys.” Said scene, where Leo, whose character has essentially been a recluse for ages, attempts to make a drive down to New Orleans to reunite with Doug is perhaps the best scene in the movie. Leo’s stabs at simply trying to start up the car remind you of silent comedy a little bit. What makes the scene great is that it’s alternately funny and sad while staying so understated. This one scene suggests so much about how crippled her personal tragedy has left her, to the point where she can’t even remember how to operate a car! Shoulda, woulda, coulda. Instead, Leo’s character arc is shortchanged and condensed to make room for the more rote Gandolfini-Stewart relationship. Hence, my “sort of.” Between the cliche Gandolfini-Stewart section and Stewart’s poor performance, particularly when contrasted with Ms. Leo’s impressive performance and some promising screenwriting during her sections, it makes the viewer feel especially disappointed rather than if the whole thing had just been a mess; it’s not fair to shortchange an actress of Ms. Leo’s caliber on character development.For instance, we just have to assume that because she’s gone from sporting a metallic, blonde ‘do to a more relaxed and curly style that she’s a changed and liberated woman—for the record I like the signifying hairstyle but it’s still lazy character development.
Welcome to the middle of the road.