We got to see a bit of rocker Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia.” Now she gets to go full rocker in “Ricki and the Flash.” However, as fun as it is to see Meryl let loose, “Ricki” remains way more of a drama than a flat out comedy. It’s sort of similar to director Johnathan Demme’s other family drama “RachelGetting Married” which showcased a wildly unhinged Oscar nominated turn from Anne Hathaway. It was one of those family dramas where dark intimate secrets come bubbling up to the surface. “Ricki and the Flash” is very similar except this time “Juno” scribe Diablo Cody takes a shot at the genre. Generally speaking, it feels like a success. The film’s target audience, judging from those I was surrounded by, middle aged women, seemed to be having a blast seeing their girl Meryl in dreds, tight stretch pants, and platform shoes. However, the film sort of wraps things up almost a little too neatly, leaving the awkward family drama behind in lieu of a storyline that basically turns to rock music as the be all end all cure for familial strife.
Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo, she’s a rock star. Well sort of. She’s released one album, and she and her band the Flash perform in a tiny bar to a mixed audience of baby boomers and millennials. Ricki, who’s real name is Linda, also works as a grocery store clerk and has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. She seems more like a washed up rock star wannabe. And that’s probably the point. Because she left her family years ago and now her kids are all grown up and they all hate her for running out on them. Her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline, where have you been?) calls out of the blue one day because of a crisis situation involving their daughter Julie (Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer). And hence Cody gives us a sort of standard three act story: Ricki heads back to Indianapolis to her family who hates her including her sons Josh (Sebastian Stan) who is engaged, and Adam (Nick Westrate) who is gay. Then she flies back home to hang out with her bandmate/boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield, yes that Rick Springfield) where she thinks about how much her family hates her, and then the final act where she seeks redemption by attending Josh’s wedding much to her extended family’s dismay.
“Ricki and the Flash” has several things going for it. It sort of has a “Mamma Mia” meets “Rachel Getting Married” vibe which is probably because of the trifecta of Cody, Streep, and Demme. In that way it feels untraditional yet will most likely appeal to the masses, or at least those over forty and hardcore Streep fans. Demme gives it that indie feel; he knows how to direct actors and dialogue driven scenes. Though given his track record for nailing realistic tones, I’m not sure much that happens in the film could be considered realistic at all. Cody’s script has trademarked witty repartee though it seems more geared an older crowded and has much darker elements. The thoughtful commentary on women’s roles in the family and parenting are interesting if not entirely fully developed. And of course the performances are all very solid. Streep has fun with the role even if she’s not necessarily breaking the mold. I’d say it’s at least Golden Globe worthy though she’d have to count on weak competition if she wants a chance at Oscar number four.
Overall, I enjoyed “Ricki and the Flash” though it’s ending feels almost too neat and tidy. The third act feels rushed and disjointed compared to the rest of the film. Without giving too much away, Ricki , ultimately as a generally poor person, has nothing really to give except the gift of music, which works fine in Disney form, but seeing as though she’s caused so much distress, sadness, and bitterness among her entire estranged family you’d think it would take more than a Dobie Gray song for redemption. GRADE: B-
Note: The fact that the opening number is Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” a song briefly but memorably featured in Johnathan Demme’s “Silence of the Lambs,” can’t possibly be just a coincidence right? Either Cody and/or Demme have a delightfully wicked sense of humor.
Trailer for Ricki and the Flash on TrailerAddict.