RICKI AND THE FLASH
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate, Ben Platt
Get ready to hear Meryl Streep singing Lady Gaga. That’s right! It’s only the intro of “Bad Romance”, but who would have thought these two worlds would ever collide. Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo who fronts a rock cover band that continues to play gigs at a lonely dive bar. Her life is basically falling apart at the seams, as she’s broke, living in a dumpy apartment, and makes a small wage working at a Whole Foods-inspired grocery store. There’s also her boyfriend/guitar player (Springfield) whom she can’t fully commit to and uses stage banter to mask her feelings. It’s easier for Ricki to simply brush her troubles under the rug. The time comes for her to confront her past when she gets a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kline) that their daughter Julie (Gummer) isn’t doing well. She’s suffering from severe depression due to a recent divorce. Upon Pete’s request, Ricki shows up at his door in order to help their daughter out. Too bad Julie wants nothing to do with her. Ricki’s decision to leave their family and lead the rock and roll life has had its lasting affects on Julie and her brothers (Stan and Westrate). Julie’s breakdown is the catalyst that forces Ricki to get her life back on track and repair the relationships she has soured.
I think we should take a moment to analyze the pedigree involved with this movie. We have four Oscar winners (Demme, Streep, Kline, and Diablo Cody), two Tony winners (McDonald, Kline), a Grammy winner (Springfield), and an Emmy winner (Streep again). So we have an EGOT all lined up here. This combined power of collaboration and talent is precisely why this movie works and is enjoyable, yet at the same time, you almost expect it to be better. We have all seen better projects come from this creative group. Ricki and the Flash feels like that fun project they all wanted to do as it’s a bit of a breather compared to say The Silence of the Lambs (Demme) or Sophie’s Choice (Streep and Kline). I should also mention that Streep gets to act with her daughter Mamie Gummer for the first time. I wonder if this was always the plan or if Mamie actually had to audition.
Diablo Cody’s script doesn’t quite compare to her previous films like Juno or Young Adult. It starts off strong garnering laughs for the blunt dialogue Streep gets to spew and it’s fun to watch her, Kline, and Gummer get high in one scene. There is some really honest and frank discussions that can ring true for many couples or parents about the choices we make in life. About halfway through the movie, you feel like it almost resolves itself and you wonder what’s going to happen next. We are then treated with a few scenes that feel like you are just watching a Ricki and the Flash concert. There are some full musical numbers as Streep wails on the likes of Pink, U2, and The Rolling Stones, and in between are some transitional moments. I credit Demme, Streep, and Springfield for giving this section of the film some depth as you realize that Julie has had just as big of an impression on Ricki as Ricki did on her. They were able to convey a growth of character through music and every day life with minimal dialogue.
Is it any surprise that Streep can be believable in this character? It may seem like she’s playing so far out of left field, but that’s what I love about her. She can find that emotional core in any character and scene and play the hell out of it. There are moments where you want to cringe as Streep knows how to peter on the fence of nuttiness. We all know that person where you just don’t know what’s going to come out of their mouth next and you hope it’s not some incoherent tirade at a microphone. Streep can do all of that and play guitar. It’s refreshing to see the more naturalistic side of her. I feel like lately we’ve seen her completely covered up in a heavy hair and make-up design where here she gets to let it all hang loose and throw caution to the wind.
Her scene partners are just as strong. She gets to reunite with Sophie’s Choice and A Prairie Home Companion co-star Kevin Kline. They are both idols of mine so it’s just a pleasure to see them sharing scenes and playing off each other again. It really does feel like two old friends just having a good time. He stars as her ex-husband and is quite the opposite of her by being prim, proper, and living in a wealthy gated community. Gummer proves she is capable of following in her mother’s footsteps. It’s not an easy role to be so emotionally unstable for a majority of the film. Theater lovers will just fawn over the fact that we also get to see Streep go head to head with SIX-time Tony winner Audra McDonald who plays Kline’s wife. She is the definition of grace and character. We get one juicy scene where they have a tough mother vs. stepmother fight. I wish we had been able to see more of McDonald’s character. For such a phenomenal performer, she’s under-used and doesn’t get to sing at all. I get that it’s not her story, but I think there was potential to explore the character a bit more while giving her some depth.
Ricki and the Flash is one of those feel good types of movies. It’s not the most original concept out there, nor is it as heavy and deep as you could potentially expect with this group. In the end, it’s fun to watch these actors reunite, have fun, and tell a poignant story. I can imagine it resonating with many moviegoers. Others will come out wanting more, and some will be content just singing along with Meryl.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? By no means perfect, but Streep and company give it more depth than you would expect from this premise.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS