Ricki and The Flash
Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, and Audra McDonald
You know that cover band at the dive bar you use to go to back in the day? The better-than-average band that played all the classic rock hits just well enough to tell friends that the bar played good music. That band was Ricki and The Flash. Director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody examine Ricki, a female lead singer of a rock band who left her family to chase her dream of making it to the mainstage in Los Angeles. Meryl Streep stars and sings in “Ricki and the Flash” and provides a great performance that holds this lopsided and tepid film together from start to finish.
Ricki (Meryl Streep) is alive on the stage. Singing covers of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty with the kind of love for music that can be felt in the back row, or in Ricki’s case the booths in the back of the bar. Ricki’s love for music has led her to Los Angeles; she is an entertainer by night and grocery clerk by day struggling to make rent for her apartment and taking life one small step at a time. Though at one time Ricki was married and had three children, a life she abandoned to chase her dream. An unexpected phone call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) brings Ricki back to her uneasy family and closer to a life that will need her to pick up the pieces.
Jonathan Demme is a great film director, known most for “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”, who has recently transitioned into more television and documentary work. Demme’s film catalog is painted through a plethora of genre and stories about people whose choices are never easy and sometimes never resolved but always a reflection of the world that has shaped them. You can feel many of these qualities trying to peak through in “Ricki and The Flash”, unfortunately the narrative never seems content to explore these different places. Ricki has lived a life marred by failure, though she masks many of her insecurities with life lesson quips amidst a smug attitude. You can sense in small moments that there is much more going on underneath the heavy makeup and zipped up leather jackets, a unexplored history that holds pertinent truths for her character. The people in the film are a mix of perspectives, the sacrificing and selfish views from parents, the angry and forgiving mentality of children, even very blatantly the division of the liberal verses conservative viewpoints displayed when Ricki stops to talk to her fans. These are stimulating ideas to explore when analyzing the dynamic of a broken family influenced by numerous societal elements. However, everything remains fairly superficial and the result is highly predictable.
What saves the film from faltering completely are the performances. Meryl Streep is great here, taking her character and giving her a rockstar personality capable of singing recognizable songs with her own distinguishable style and approach. Streep’s voice is raspy yet heartfelt. Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter in real life, portrays the rage and angst of a woman scorned by a terrible man, it’s over-the-top and subtle at the same time. Kevin Kline adds something nice to every scene here, giving his character the good-to-a-fault persona Kline has done many times before. While it’s familiar it’s also perfectly placed in this film, providing a supporting balance to the many stronger emotions on display.
“Ricki and The Flash” has some very good musical moments, completely owned by Meryl Streep. These song choices play to the narrative as much as formal dialog does between characters. It’s unfortunate that this detail wasn’t reflected throughout the narrative and composition of the characters. “Ricki and The Flash” is very much like the better-than-average cover band at the bar, you’ll appreciate that they don’t mess up any of the songs and tell your friends that you saw a good band playing at a dive bar.
3.00 out of 5.00