Here is a tiny little film that barely earned $320,000 in total box-office receipts world-wide and screened only in 11 movie theaters when it was released. It’s one of those films that was tossed straight into the home-video bin.
But my god… what quality, what super writing, directing, and acting are tucked away in this miniscule corner of the movie world! The quality of this adult drama is nothing less than astounding.
First off, let’s praise the world-class acting muscle brought in by James Gandolfini (Doug Riley) of the SOPRANOS fame. That TV-series has seared itself permanently into my brain cells and will live with me as long as I’m around. And the number one reason why I loved that show so much was Gandolfini. The number one reason why I was mesmerized with the RILEYS is again JG. Bless you, sir.
But Melissa Leo as Doug’s depressed wife Lois and Kristen Stewart as a teenage hooker also excel beyond description. Why I haven’t heard the names of these amazing actors before; I have no idea. But I’m sure we’ll hear about them frequently in the future, especially Stewart given the fact that she is still so young and in the early years of her career. May it be a long one. I think she’ll fill in the shoes of Marcia Gay Harden nicely. Stewart is another Natalie Portman or Michelle Williams in the making.
(WARNING: some plot points revealed ahead…)
The story: Doug is a plumbing materials wholesaler in Indianapolis living in a middle-class neighborhood with his wife Lois. Despite the appearances, both are depressed deep down since they’ve lost their 15-year old only daughter in a traffic accident years earlier.
Doug, perhaps also squeezed by a typical middle-age crisis, starts to look around for a diversion, for a way to forget his pain. His wife Lois is house-ridden and clinically depressed 24-7. Thus it does not take long for Doug to get off track during an industry convention down in New Orleans.
Enter Mallory, the Big Easy teenage pole-dancer and prostitute who is just about the same age as Rileys’ deceased daughter. There’s obviously a father-daughter attraction there on Doug’s part while Mallory tries to treat Doug as yet another John off the street. Yet when Doug declares his decision to move in with Mallory while refusing any sex for payment, we are as puzzled as both Mallory and Lois are with Doug’s true intentions.
At times I thought the RILEYS might deteriorate into the overworked formula of MY FAIR LADY (even PRETTY WOMAN): will Doug try to make a lady out of Mallory? Yes and no, but Mallory is no “lady” for sure. She is not even a “woman” yet. She is a foul-mouthed wild beast.
The story takes a sharp turn at this point with Lois’s decision to pack up her suitcase, get into the family Cadillac, and after a few nervous mishaps, hit the road to… New Orleans! Lois has her epiphany and will not leave Doug on his own down in the netherworld of New Orleans.
Act Three of this fascinating story gets layered with all three major characters interacting with each other to redeem themselves and to find salvation in ways that befit them.
The ending is both logical and delicate. Writer Ken Hixon and director Jake Scott (nephew of the great Tony Scott) really love their characters and they treat them with respect, patience, and dignity even when they are down in the pits, smeared with the ugliness of the world.
The RILEYS leaves us emotionally exhausted but yet also strangely charged up for the possibilities ahead. Hope is beating like a drum in the inner chambers of this film.
R-rated and too hard for the kids. But if you’d like to spend meaningful two hours in front of your TV set curled up with your spouse or significant other, RILEYS is not a bad choice at all. As a matter of fact, until you see it, it should be the only choice.
© 2011, Gary Karbon. All rights reserved.