Welcome to the Rileys Movie Review
Doug Riley (Gandolfini) and his wife Lois (Leo) have a quietly tense marriage that's infused with grief over the death of their teen daughter. So when Doug's mistress (Davis) dies suddenly, he doesn't know how to cope. Then he discovers that Lois has already bought their tombstone. On a business trip to New Orleans, he develops a tentative father-daughter relationship with young prostitute Mallory (Stewart). But while he's helping Mallory get back on her feet, Lois is in meltdown mode. So she stops taking her pills and drives to New Orleans.
Filmaker Scott creates a foreboding tone from the start, immediately plunging us into the Rileys' grief, which is clearly tearing them apart in the slowest, most painful way possible. These scenes are played with a raw, aching sadness by Gandolfini and Leo. So the contrast with the sparky Stewart is striking (and not just because her usual performances are so mopey). This approach pulls us in strongly, telling an intriguing story full of possibilities while drawing out an emotional response as events evolve in unexpected ways.
With such a character-based approach to the story, the film's rather gloomy mood never feels oppressive. The script, direction and performances all manage to find glimpses of hope and expressions of quiet resilience in every scene.
Even as Mallory resists Doug's help, and as Lois slips into desperation, there are moments of warm humanity and earthy humour. These three people may feel like they would rather be dead, but they're not dead yet. And the complex ways they come together are deeply involving.
It's nice to see a film take such an adult approach to a complex story, never simplifying things or playing to expectations. As a result, the performances feel fresh, with the three central actors playing strongly against type to find something interesting in each scene. And while Scott's sensitive direction and Hixon's loose script sometimes feel both imprecise and somewhat moralistic, these people get under our skin.