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Ricki and the Flash - Movie Review


2 stars

Meryl Streep has finally met her match. Yes, the brilliant actress with the nearly embarrassing overabundance of acting and singing talent is not super-human after all. Contrary to popular belief, Meryl Streep has her kryptonite.

The toxic concoction that has been discovered to drain the actress with the most Academy Award nominations in history of her talent is the bad chemistry generated by the collaborative efforts of director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Diablo Cody, and Meryl Streep herself. The three share equal credit for all the reasons Ricki and the Flash fails to strike a resonant chord.

Perhaps it’s one of those situations where there’s just too much talent in the room for anyone to stand out. Or maybe it’s that all of the parts are just simply greater than the sum and no one wanted to step on any toes. A case of 1+1+1 equaling 2, perhaps? Well, someone should have stepped on toes, because Ricki and the Flash is an anemic effort by all with neither the chutzpah nor the balls to get as rough and tumble and down and dirty as the subject matter demands. As a result, the mother/daughter film with such heady themes as family dysfunction, personal redemption, and learning to live with our mistakes feels more like a PG-rated Disney Channel production than it does a feature film made by three Academy Award winners. It’s not a terrible movie by any stretch, but with its Grade-A pedigree, and premise that offers so much in the way of possibilities, Ricki and the Flash should be much better than it is.

Streep is 60-something hard-rocking, singer/guitarist Ricki Rendazzo who left her husband and children decades ago to chase the dream of living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Having made many mistakes along the way and never having quite reached the level of stardom she dreamed of, Ricki jumps at the chance for redemption when she receives a phone call from ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) informing her that their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer) is suicidal after her husband walked out on her.

Being a dive bar cover band musician, Ricki is broke and can’t even afford the cost of cab fare from the airport to Pete’s lavish manse where she’ll stay while Pete’s wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) is tending to her ailing father. Ricki’s troubles are compounded when she finally gets to see her daughter only to discover she’s a total mess. Julie hasn’t showered or even brushed her hair in days. That rat’s nest Gummer sports for half the film is worth the price of admission itself.

Julie doesn’t exactly roll out the warm welcome to her mother, but as expected, her boorishness eventually wears down as the mother/daughter bond begins to kick in. As we see coming a mile away, both Ricki and Julie find their impromptu reunion cathartic and eventually realize that they are good for each other. Cue eye roll.

The acrimonious relationship between members of the dysfunctional family comes to a head at a family dinner in a fancy restaurant where Ricki is the crude one, Julie and her two brothers (Nick Westrate and Sebastian Stan) are the mean ones, and Pete just hopes to get through the whole thing without too much embarrassment. It all feels a bit too contrived and even timid at times. For a much better version of a similar scene, watch Demme's Rachel Getting Married or Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. Those two films are so discomforting (the sentiment Cody was most certainly going for in Ricki and the Flash), you’ll watch both through parted fingers.

While there are bright spots in Cody’s writing, and Demme and Streep flash their tremendous talent from time to time, those great moments are few and far between as the only genuinely heartfelt human sentiment is shared between Streep and Rick Springfield (yes, that Rick Springfield) who plays her current boyfriend and band member, Greg.

It’s also worth pointing out that Demme brilliantly chose to film the band scenes live as they happened including Streep playing guitar and singing. We knew she could sing but she also learned to play guitar which lends an air of authenticity to the setting. Great decision.

Though almost all cover tunes, the music is good with backing that comes from fellow band members played by Parliament-Funkadelic founder Bernie Worrell, Neil Young bassist Rick Rosas, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash drummer Joe Vitale. Sadly though, the scenes of Ricki and her band jamming in California dive bars are some of the most lively in the film. But the music is too often interrupted by those boring talky parts.


[tab title="Film Details"]

Ricki and the Flash - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: PG - 13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language
101 mins
: Jonathan Demme
Diablo Cody
Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer
: Comedy | Drama
Get ready for Ricki
Memorable Movie Quote: "Hey, you guys are fighting; it's like the '80s all over again!"
Sony Pictures Releasing
Official Site: http://www.rickiandtheflashmovie.com/site/
Release Date:
August 7, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: Meryl Streep takes on a whole new gig – a hard-rocking singer/guitarist – for Oscar®-winning director Jonathan Demme and Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody in Ricki and the Flash. In an original and electrifying film loaded with live musical performances, Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo, a guitar heroine who made a world of mistakes as she followed her dreams of rock-and-roll stardom. Returning home, Ricki gets a shot at redemption and a chance to make things right as she faces the music with her family. Streep stars opposite her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer; Rick Springfield, portraying a Flash member in love with Ricki; Kevin Kline as Ricki's ex-husband; and Audra McDonald as Kline's new wife.


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