TMG Scale 10.0
Starring James Gandolfini, Melissa Leo, Kristen Stewart, (and a bit part by Ally Sheedy—glad this talented brat packer is finding work these days)
The best performance ever by James Gandolfini and the best picture about the human condition I have seen this year since Please Give. There is something about a film that starts in an old pancake house with a Bob Ross style picture hanging above that really sets the tone for a movie. Meaningful things are going to be painted on the screen with lots of burnt umber color. It unfolds magically before you.
Doug (Gandolfini) and Lois (Leo) Riley are a mid 50’s couple that have been lost in despair for years after the death of their fifteen year old daughter in a car accident. Every parent’s nightmare. It tears families and couples apart. Many parents deteriorate in despair looking for answers to the question “Why? ” Or to the meaning of life and death. The Rileys are no exception. Lois takes depression drugs and never leaves the house fearing reality. Doug takes the drug of a meaningless affair and focuses on building his Indianapolis plumbing supply business. The purpose of life seems lost. They are simply coping, … or not. Doug dreads another business convention in New Orleans with the same old guys and same old bull and malarkey. He is adrift and he knows it. Doug is searching for something to fill his void.
He ends up alone in a strip joint in a seedy area of New Orleans (are there any other areas in New Orleans?). He meets Mallory—a stripper and prostitute. Maybe he can find some redemption taking her on as a project. He lost a daughter of the same age. Maybe he can now save one. He pretty much chucks it all for the effort.
What I liked about this film is it portrays an average guy from Indianapolis as a father who loved his daughter. As someone who wants to help another young girl in trouble, but has no interest in sex or a romp in the sack in return. It dispels the myth that all men would take the sex. Normal men do have a gene that says “I don’t have sex with a sixteen year old girl the age of my daughter.” There is a very touching scene where he stares at Mallory as she sleeps and puts a sheet on her to keep her warm and covered. Daddies of little girls know this moment. It’s all about love and caring. Nothing more. You want the best for them and to protect them from life’s evils and dangers. But you know you cannot. You can only do so much.
Lois surprisingly gets on the program when she arrives unexpectedly in New Orleans to find Doug. It is not easy and few wives would be as open minded as Lois. Together they try. And that is the story. Do they succeed? Perhaps not. But like their own daughter Emily, they tried and made mistakes. People’s own fate and the Lord take it from there. Love and caring can only accomplish so much. But they clearly had impact and so does this film. Some other young girls in trouble may be a bit warmer and safer tonight due to the inspiration of this film…and that is a good thing.