Ricki (Meryl Streep) gave up her marriage and her family to become a rock ‘n’ roll star. She never reached the heights of fame she wanted and, now, a family emergency calls her back to the Midwest to help her daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer), in “Ricki and the Flash.”
Here is a case where the music overshadows the so-so story (by Diablo Cody) making “Ricki and the Flash” an off-balanced work. Do not get me wrong, the cover songs performed (and there are about 12 of them) are very well done and Meryl (with Rick Springfield as boyfriend Greg) does, indeed, rock the house. But, the family drama that should be the glue that holds everything together is tepid in its telling and its anti-climax. I will not bother with a synopsis – look it up if you are interested...
“Ricki and the Flash” is directed by Jonathan Demme and it is the least Demme-feeling film (see, really see, “The Silence of the Lambs” for his best work). The whole feel of “Ricki” has a manufactured quality with plots going in expected directions and ringing false. (Cody has not one but two scenes where members of the dysfunctional family break into loud public arguments, once in a donut shop and the other at a swanky restaurant – silly.)
The film does not have a cohesive flow with the family drama getting short shrift and loooong sections of Meryl rocking on with the Flash in a local LA karaoke bar, giving the unbalanced feel to the final product. I like the music, though. I give it a C+.
After marrying and having three children, Linda Brummel (Meryl Streep) decided to follow her dream of becoming a rock star, leaving her family in Indianapolis for L.A. Now years later, she's estranged from her kids, her ex has moved on and Linda works as a checkout cashier when she's not performing at a local bar with her band "Ricki and the Flash."
Director Jonathan Demme has tackled the 'Black Sheep at family wedding' in "Rachel Getting Married" and made numerous rock documentaries, so this project sounded tailor made for him. Unfortunately Demme's brand of American eccentricity and screenwriter Diablo Cody's ("Juno") hipster stylings don't mesh, producing a weird hybrid of a film that's part family drama, part rock band cover show, its sprinklings of wit smothered with exaggerated cartoons. Meryl Streep rocks out believably and is a ton of fun to watch, but the film's biggest surprise is the heartfelt performance from Rick 'Jessie's Girl' Springfield as her much abused guitarist/lover Greg.
As her alter ego Ricki Rendazzo, Linda's all heavy eye makeup, half her hair elaborately braided, the other half swinging across her face. She plays 'American Girl' and other classics to a coterie of regulars at Tarzana's Salt Well, throwing in the occasional 'Get the Party Started' in hopes of attracting younger fans. But even on stage where she should be in her element, something's not right, Ricki rejecting Greg's flirtatious banter to uncomfortable effect.
When she gets a call from her ex Pete (Kevin Kline) telling her her newlywed daughter Julie's (Streep's daughter Mamie Gummer, "The End of the Tour," TV's 'Extant') husband has left her, Ricki needs to be told that perhaps Julie, who's descended into a pit of depression at the family home, might need her mother, Pete's wife Maureen (Audra McDonald, TV's 'Private Practice') out of state attending to her ailing father. Ricki, who wasn't at the wedding, packs her guitar and boards Jet Blue, arriving at the gated community in a cab with her mantra - 'I haven't got any money.'
Julie, who wears the same X rock tee for days (a token tie to mom?) and whose unwashed hair looks like a rats' nest, greets mom with a tirade before retreating to her bed. Trying-to-keep-the-peace-Pete, who's just paid Ricki's cab fare, cluelessly offers to take her to a hotel before ceding to the obvious solution (Ricki's breathlessly given herself a tour of the house with the double height entrance and professional kitchen emblazoned with cutesy cook's mottos). The next day, Ricki gets Julie to eat, then groomed, but not before the unpresentable version joins a family dinner at a fancy restaurant where Ricki horrifies her son Adam's (Nick Westrate, TV's 'TURN: Washington's Spies') eco-dippy fiance (Hailey Gates), learns she's not invited to their wedding and gets a pile of abuse from gay son Joshua (Sebastian Stan, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"). When Maureen returns unexpectedly, it's time for another showdown. Ricki returns to L.A. to confront her other relationship.
With Streep and The Flash (Rock'n Roll Hall of Famer Bernie Worrell on keyboards, the late Rick Rosas on bass and Joe Vitale on drums in addition to Springfield) performing ten songs (the film begins and ends with two full numbers) the film plays like a concert film with some family drama thrown in and it is the musical element which is more believable (seriously, without the bickering banter this band could open for a legitimate headliner). There are a couple of good moments in the latter - Ricki strumming an original song ('Cold One') for Pete and Julie; Ricki finding out she's been 'Rubbermaided,' Pete having stored her mementos; Pete and Ricki descending on Julie's husband Max (Gabriel Ebert) and his new girl to give them a good telling off. But Kline acts like he has a stick inserted, making him an unlikely earlier partner for the Bohemian Ricki, Julie's public dishevelment would never be condoned and Ricki's unmasking as a homophobic Republican is only a screenwriting obstacle to her reconciliation with Josh. Maureen gets to be self righteous and saintly at the same time.
"Ricki and the Flash" has its moments and Streep gets to add rock chick to her list of accomplishments, but its Oscar winning director, star, costar and screenwriter won't be getting any nominations for this one. (Cody based Ricki on her mother-in-law, whose New Jersey band Silk & Steel can be seen here.)
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