I think every Twilight fan in the world is pretty sick and tired of the assumptions people make about the Twilight Saga: it’s just for teens, it’s for brainless housewives, it’s an abstinence, LDS conversion text, …the list goes on. Those of us who have read the books know it isn’t any of those things, and the prejudgement by people who haven’t actually read the books makes us nuts. To quote one of my friends who is a recent Twilight reader, “I can’t believe I resisted it for so long. What’s on the Internet is really exaggerated.”
In the same way, the early pre-press on Welcome to the Rileys classifying it as “a stripper movie” does the same disservice. It’s no more “just a stripper movie” any more than Pretty Woman was “just a hooker movie” almost two decades ago. It has a lot of the same themes as Pretty Woman: redemption, wounded people finding and healing each other, rebirth into who you want to be. Unlike Pretty Woman, the life of a runaway, teen stripper in New Orleans isn’t sanitized, but at the same token it isn’t gratuitously revealing.
Kristen Stewart plays Mallory, the little girl lost in the seamier side of New Orleans. You see the traces of what life on the streets has done to Mallory: cuts, bad skin, circles under her eyes, vocabulary that would make a truck driver do a spit-take, never mind blush. When Mallory is not in the clothing her job requires, she is in overly baggy jeans and over-sized tees that look like Salvation Army specials. In a sense, it’s her armor against the life and neighborhood that she has found herself stuck in. It’s a way of separating, albeit subconsciously, Mallory the stripper from Mallory the person, and hanging onto a vestige of self-respect. The biggest thing you understand is that Mallory is a fighter. She’s a survivor to keep going, but until she meets Doug, played by James Gandofini, a long-term future, or a goal past waking up the next day wasn’t that clear.
James Gandofini and Melissa Leo play a married couple who are just going through the motions of life after the tragic death of their teenage daughter. They are stuck in much the same rut as Mallory in that they are just surviving day-by-day and not really living. They have lost the two things that Mallory clearly has: the fight to keep going and the ability to feel emotionally what happens to them. On the other hand, their innate need to take care of a child hasn’t died, they know what a life ended too soon is, and each struggles to “fix” Mallory.
The movie itself has good, solid storytelling. Just as I thought, “oh I know what’s going to happen” the stereotypical didn’t happen. I soon found myself asking scene after scene, “Where is all this going? What is going to be the resolution?” Thankfully, the story wasn’t lending itself to a happily ever after where prince charming saves the princess and brings her to the castle. On the other hand, it didn’t seem like the equally overdone “bonding over a climatic tragedy” was going to be the route either. When the resolution came around, I found myself smiling. It wasn’t perfect. I was so happy not to have been given a cliche. In real-life not everything gets settled with all loose ends nicely tied up. Mallory and the Rileys give each other the ability to keep going, their self respect, and the desire to want to take control of their destinies rather than to just react to what happens around them.
For Twilight fans you have the story that makes you really want to know what happens. It’s a solid story that grips you emotionally. You also see the Kristen Stewart level of talent that was evidenced in Panic Room and Speak that made Catherine Hardwicke want to cast her in Twilight in the first place. It’s definitely rated R, but nothing is cheap or gratuitous.
Some, like HitFix are talking a possible Academy Award supporting actress nomination for Kristen. It’s possible. The more likely that I see is a BAFTA, because director Jake Scott is British; therefore, making the movie eligible in a number of categories. On the heels of Kristen winning last year’s BAFTA Rising Star Award this might be where this is going, especially since the Brits have more of a love for indie film than Hollywood.