Note: As it was originally written for Flixchatter, this review is formatted differently than most of my work.
The Life of Riley (2011)
The Life of Riley occurs in and around Duluth, Minnesota, sometimes venturing northward to the Lake Superior shores that surround it. In many ways, the film is a love letter to its setting; director Carrie Boberg, cinematographer Mark Hartzel and writer/co-editor/producer/star Jason Page present Duluth such that it seems equal parts calming, fun and beautiful. Boberg’s wide angle and static exterior shots prove especially effective in that regard. Like Mystery Road, another movie I saw at MSPIFF, The Life of Riley has a superlative sense of setting. All viewers, even those previously unfamiliar with the city, will fall in love with Duluth.
The central characters are lovable, too, especially Maggie (Jessica Manuel), who enters Riley’s (Page) life as he is languishing at a job he hates, so much so that he lacks inspiration to finish the novel he has been theoretically writing for years. Maggie and Riley’s first date is to join Elliot (Peter Ooley) on a trip to Minneapolis where they see Martin (Zachary Stofer) headlining a rock concert with one of his bands. The date goes well, so well that Maggie seeks out Riley the following day, whereupon the two begin a passionate relationship, one that vitalizes Riley and brings about significant changes in the ways he lives life.
In the early going, The Life of Riley is hilarious, largely owing to the witty banter between Riley, Martin, Elliot and Maggie. The mostly amateur performers help, as well, especially Page and Manuel who play their characters with such charismatic aplomb that we almost don’t notice Riley or Maggie’s flaws.
Approximately two-thirds through the film, Page’s screenplay takes a surprising turn, one that instantly transforms The Life of Riley from hilarious to emotional. For the most part, the shift is handled adeptly, except in the moments immediately preceding it when Boberg’sdirectorial decisions and Page’s screenplay too directly foreshadow what is to come and thereby temporarily make the project melodramatic. In the final third, the cast stumbles a bit, too, not quite accessing proper gravitas to suit events. Finally, some of the dialogue is a little too on point.
All of these flaws are dismissible, however, because the characters are complex and captivating. Moreover, enough of the film is laugh out loud funny that we are always entertained, and, perhaps most importantly, The Life of Riley makes several interesting observations about life. The film mightn’t be perfect, but it is quite good.