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Ricki and the Flash - review

Ricki and the Flash - review

Sep 17, 2015 Film & TV

Even with the awesomeness of The Streep in its title role, Ricki and the Flash is a hard sell. The poster shows a leather-clad Meryl with a guitar slung over her shoulder, Springsteen-style. Her hair is a mad combination of Medusa braids and Valley Girl blonde. It’s a difficult image to read. Is this Hollywood’s idea of cool? Are we supposed to take Meryl Streep the rocker seriously?

Don’t worry. Ricki and the Flash is in on the joke. With her American flag back tattoo and raccoon eye make-up, Ricki Rendazzo is more than a bit ridiculous. Her taste in everything from music (Edgar Winter, Journey, U2) to politics (Republican) is decidedly uncool. She plays to near-empty dive bars, is fighting off bankruptcy and sees so little of her adult children, she doesn’t know one son is gay and another is getting married.

By nearly every yardstick, Ricki’s life has been a failure. But the film imbues her with heart and a twisted kind of integrity, despite her innate selfishness. She’s a woman in a man’s world, living on her own terms, and screw the haters.

Between them, writer Diablo Cody and Streep have created a marvelously complex and sympathetic character. If only the rest of the script could live up to that high bar.

With a couple of exceptions, the supporting cast the story. Ricki’s ex-husband, played by Kevin Kline, is a straight-laced workaholic with whom she has exactly zero in common. Why did they get married? Who changed and when? It’s never explained, and it’s easy to suspect that Cody doesn’t particularly care. Instead of idiosyncratic, well-rounded people, she gives us a collection of personality traits designed for maximum conflict with embarrassing, out-of-touch Ricki.

There are some good dramatic scenes — notably between Streep and her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer as Ricki’s daughter Julie — and some great one-liners, but much of the script is predictable and trite. It’s disappointing that Cody, the creative force who gave us Juno and Young Adult, would so easily fall back on moments we’ve seen a hundred times before, like the family blowout in a starchy restaurant. Worst of all is the ending, a lazy melange of classic rock and cheap sentiment that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Glee.

Director Jonathan Demme should be better than this too. His credits include the Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense, and he does make the most of the frequent musical interludes. (Impressively, they’re all performed live by Streep and her band, including 80s heartthrob Rick Springfield as her lead guitarist/boyfriend.)

But he doesn’t do much more, and Streep is no David Byrne: a spirited gallop through “Wooly Bully” doesn’t have quite the power of “Psycho Killer” live in 1984. If a covers band playing AM radio hits is your idea of fun, you might just enjoy Ricki and the Flash. Especially if you agree that Streep in a second-rate movie is better than no Streep at all.

is drawn too thinly to bear the weight of the story. Ricki’s ex-husband, played by Kevin Kline, is a straight-laced workaholic with whom she has exactly zero in common. Why did they get married? Who changed and when? It’s never explained, and it’s easy to suspect that Cody doesn’t particularly care. Instead of idiosyncratic, well-rounded people, she gives us a collection of personality traits designed for maximum conflict with embarrassing, out-of-touch Ricki.

There are some good dramatic scenes — notably between Streep and her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer as Ricki’s daughter Julie — and some great one-liners, but much of the script is predictable and trite. It’s disappointing that Cody, the creative force who gave us Juno and Young Adult, would so easily fall back on moments we’ve seen a hundred times before, like the family blowout in a starchy restaurant. Worst of all is the ending, a lazy melange of classic rock and cheap sentiment that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Glee.

Director Jonathan Demme should be better than this too. His credits include the Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense, and he does make the most of the frequent musical interludes. (Impressively, they’re all performed live by Streep and her band, including 80s heartthrob Rick Springfield as her lead guitarist/boyfriend.)

But he doesn’t do much more, and Streep is no David Byrne: a spirited gallop through “Wooly Bully” doesn’t have quite the power of “Psycho Killer” live in 1984. If a covers band playing AM radio hits is your idea of fun, you might just enjoy Ricki and the Flash. Especially if you agree that Streep in a second-rate movie is better than no Streep at all.

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