This bittersweet and rather charming tale of bereavement and acceptance, loss and unexpected unconditional love, is handled with a very delicate touch.
Director Jake (son of Ridley) Scott has fashioned this small, intimate film with finesse and empathy, creating a story of redemption out of the unlikeliest of elements.
The Rileys are an everyday middle-aged couple whose existence is notable only for the fact it is so unremarkable; Doug (James Gandolfini) owns a successful business, while Lois (Melissa Leo) spends her hours pottering around the house. But there is a gaping hole at the centre of their lives which they never talk about; they lost their teenage daughter in a car crash eight years ago. Now Lois is crippled by her loss, existing on anti-depressants and not even able to step outside her own front door, while Doug has found comfort in the arms of a local waitress. When she, too, dies unexpectedly, Doug finally has to admit the situation between himself and Lois has to change or they will both be lost souls forever.
The catalyst for a new beginning comes into Doug’s life while he is at a business conference in New Orleans. Here he encounters spiky, vulnerable stripper Mallory (Kristen Stewart), an orphan trying to survive on her wits by selling herself for cash. She becomes Doug’s great project – he believes if he can keep her off the streets he can somehow save her – so he rings Lois to say he isn’t coming home. Aware she is in danger of losing her husband completely, Lois plucks up the courage to get in the car and go to Doug to see if she can finally save their marriage – and in the process heal both their souls.
Jake Scott has two things going for him in this film; a great cast and also his own, pared-down style of filming. Here, there are no flashy shots, no extraneous ultra close-ups or quick cuts. Characters are often seen sitting, lying or standing in rooms with the only movement the play of emotions across their faces. And his cast does him proud. Gandolfini imbues Doug with a sensitivity at odds with his bulky frame, patiently trying to coax Mallory into allowing him to help her. Leo carries her hurt like a physical bruise and yet also has one comic scene she handles with great aplomb, but really comes into her own in New Orleans where she almost immediately understands what Doug is trying to do and unquestionably takes Mallory under her wing.
But the biggest surprise is Stewart, who totally casts aside the wholesome image she has created as Bella in the Twilight Saga and plays Mallory as a rat-tail haired, skanky street urchin with no sense of self-worth. Beneath her brittle exterior Mallory is yearning for the kind of paternal love Doug is offering her but does not have the emotional maturity to accept it.
This strange triangular relationship seems far fetched and yet works so well and becomes believable because of the acting skills of the three leads. So, nothing flashy, nothing particularly shocking; just a small, intimate depiction of grief and how caring for others can prove to be the best medicine.