Ricki and the Flash Review
ROCKIN’ IN AND OUT OF
RICKI AND THE FLASH
Considered to be one of the great living actresses of our time, actress Meryl Streep has truly played some outstanding and fantastic roles in her career in Hollywood. The sixty six year old actress has become a legendary movie icon, watching her portray various characters with sheer brilliance and her thespian talents dominant the silver screen. Surprisingly, Streep’s catalogue of work hasn’t diminished creative juice, bringing her own colorful and specific identity to her character’s persona. Now, Meryl Streep returns screen with her new movie Ricki and the Flash. Does the film “rock on” or is it a generic and meekly mannered theatrical music artist feature?
Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) abandoned her family long ago to live out her dreams of California rock and roll fame. Unfortunately, Ricki’s stardom burning out long ago, finding the aged rocker playing weekend gigs a dive bar with her band “The Flash” and stuck in a provisional relationship with her guitarist, Greg (Rick Springfield). Hearing distressing news that her daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer) has been dumped by her husband, falling into a state of depression, Ricki books a trip back to home to Indianapolis, greeted by her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline) and his second wife Maureen (Audra McDonald). Try as she might, Ricki’s resurgence into the family’s inner working is with met hostility from her two sons, Adam (Nick Westrate) and Josh (Sebastian Stan), but finds a somewhat strange comfort with Julie, who’s still trying to coup with her recent romantic woes. Struggling to find her place in own family, Ricki’s eyes are opened as she confronts all that’s she missed in her family’s life.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like many out there, I like Meryl Streep. She definitely brings an on-screen presence and always brings a very unique theatrical gift to all the characters she portrays in her films. From the polish “stiff-upper lip” of Margaret Thatcher in the Iron Lady to the stern soft spoken Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, to the comical and theatrically bold Witch from Into the Woods, Streep has a diverse catalogue of wonderful role she’s played, exuding poise, grace, and talent in each and every one. After viewing her most recent work, I found that Ricki and the Flash, while having some problems along the way, is still a fine movie to watch with Streep once again continue her trend and delivers a fine role as the aged female rocker.
Director Jonathan Demme, known for directing such films as Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Beloved, crafts Ricki and the Flash with honesty and character faults, portraying a film that clashes with music performances, while also discussing unresolved family dramas. Helping Demme is writer Diablo Cody, whose past work includes writing for films like Juno and Young Adult. Cody pens the film’s story with more grounded behavior than simply sugar-coating it, making Ricki’s reentrance back into the family feel like “walking on eggshells” with awkward moments and flubbing at trying to find the right words to convey to her ex-husband and her adults kids. Cinematically speaking, the film also has unique appeal with scenes of different styles, including Ricki’s 80’s style and overall lower class lifestyle in contrast to her ex-husband’s luxurious one.
While the trailer for Ricki and the Flash promoted the movie as Ricki trying to help her daughter through a difficult time (which the movie does), the movie is actually about Ricki trying to come back into the lives of her family members, simultaneously facing broken past memories and current problems. While this is all good (with Streep carrying the brunt of the movie’s weight on her shoulders), a lot of the other characters (including their own subplots) get somewhat shortchanged. This also effects the movie’s ending with a lot of the story threads magically resolve themselves in a hastily manner that doesn’t feel quite earned. If time was given to develop more of these plot points, Ricki and the Flash could’ve been great rather than just good.
Of course, the song numbers featured in Ricki and the Flash are pretty good, mixing it up with new renditions of old rock songs, a couple of contemporary ones, and an original song titled “Cold One” (penned by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice). While the song are numerous (appropriate for the plot of the story), it can be a little tedious that most of the songs are played unabridged, making the notion that Demme and Cody are indulging into too much on lengthy musical sequences rather than working on defining more of the movie’s subplots / character developments.
It comes to no surprise that famed actress Meryl Streep does extremely fine work in her role as Ricki. Streep lends emotional weight to the character, while also bringing her own unique and charismatic identity that only Streep can do. Additionally, it’s also very interesting to see Streep singing and playing guitar, making her character of Ricki a very memorable one and keeping authenticity of female rocker very much believable. Continuing that trend, Ricky Springfield also gives a solid performance as The Flash’s guitarist Greg. The actor / musician also brings authenticity his character as well as on-screen dialogue and moments with Streep’s Ricki.
Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep’s real-life daughter) handles playing Ricki’s socially depressed daughter Julie. Gummer, who known for her work in Side Effects, Cake, and the TV show The Good Wife, delivers an emotionally raw and vulnerable portrayal in her character It also helps that both Streep and Gummer share an apparent and very naturalistic on-screen chemistry as mother and daughter, even if it’s theatrical different from real life personas. Though (as I said above), it would’ve been a better (and more interesting) to see Gummer’s Julie fleshed out and more developed throughout the course of the film’s duration. They show some, but not completely.
Rounding out the cast is Kevin Kline and Audra McDonald as Ricki’s ex-husband and his second wife. While not as strong of a presence in the movie, both Kline and McDonald lend their acting credibility to their respective roles with Kline as the work-driven ex-husband and McDonald as the well-composed stepmother to Ricki’s kids (the main scene with McDonald and Streep has some fantastic acting between the two). Similarly, Ricki’s other children aren’t given much time screen time to develop into well-rounded supporting characters, but actor Nick Westrate and Sebastian Stan give solid acting performance in their roles of Adam and Josh. Lastly, to all Pitch Perfect fans out there, Ben Platt plays a very minor role in the movie as Daniel, the bar tender.
Ricki and the Flash is a light movie to watch and pass the time away. While some of the family dynamics aren’t’ fully fleshed out (causing some characters to be shortchanged), the feature does tell a story of an alienated mother confronted with her own past and present in a compassionate and honest manner. Its narrative may be a little manufactured, but Streep nails the performance beautifully helps elevate the movie, along with a good ensemble cast and some great music. All in all, it’s a good movie to watch and get to that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Fans of Meryl Streep will likely see this movie in theaters, but I personally think that Ricki and the Flash is best viewed as a very good (and a very strong) rental choice.