A picture of grace. Doug (James Gandolfini) and Lois (Melissa Leo) have been married 30 years and they are virtually ships passing in the night without true connection. They function, but just barely. So Doug has a mistress who he wants to take with him on a plumbing convention instead of his neurotic wife who cannot leave her house since their daughter died years ago in an accident. But when Doug’s mistress dies on the eve of his trip, he goes with an attitude of despair – Until he meets stripper, Mallory (Kristen Stewart), who reminds him of his daughter, in fact, so much so, that he takes her on as his mission of salvation. So, this isn’t a sleazy exploitation romance, but rather a father daughter story of redemption.
On a lark, Doug sells his business, and tells his wife he doesn’t know when he’s coming back, but he doesn’t tell her why. Doug invades Mallory’s life, giving her new clothes, cleaning up and fixing up her hell hole apartment, and standing up to her abusers, and he starts to bring discipline into her lifestyle. Because she’s been nothing but abused all her life, she doesn’t even understand it at first. She’s never been cared for. She’s never known grace. And grace is what this picture is about, unmerited love that gives a broken soul into redemption.
But when Lois surprisingly overcomes her phobia and shows up at the convention, these three embark on a journey of self discovery together, where they all learn that we cannot save each other, but we can inspire others to reach out for change in their own lives. For, as Doug soon learns, Mallory tells him, it’s too late to save her, she’s no one’s daughter, Doug realizes that he had his own need for redemption in unfairly replacing his daughter with this girl, which brings his own motivations into question. So when he finally lets her go, we discover that he has affected her life, and she is making her own baby steps in seeking to take more control of her life away from the abusive system that she was a part of. And we see that Doug and Lois have a new lease on their life to begin mending their own brokenness. Powerful story of redemption that does not deny the untidy realities of life or wrap up all loose ends. And it reinforces that we can be instruments of change in one another’s lives through grace and love, but we cannot redeem another person. They have their own journey of brokenness that they need to overcome for themselves.
Interestingly, Melissa Leo just won the best supporting actress for The Fighter, and yet, in this film, she shows her acting chops almost more beautifully, and Gandolfini is no Tony Soprano here. Even Kristen Stewart shines.