Ricki and the Flash (2015)

Ricki and the Flash (2015)
  • Time: 102 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Music
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Cast: Sebastian Stan, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer


Three-time Academy Award® winner Meryl Streep goes electric and 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 the uplifting comedy Ricki and the Flash. In a film loaded with music and live performance, Streep stars as Ricki, a guitar heroine who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom, but is now returning home to make things right with her family. Streep stars opposite her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, who plays her fictional daughter; Rick Springfield, who takes on the role of a Flash member in love with Ricki; and Kevin Kline, who portrays Ricki’s long-suffering ex-husband.


  • In 2015’s Ricki and the Flash (my latest review), Meryl Streep plays an aging, sixty-year old rocker. I know it’s a stretch but let’s face it, she’s incapable of giving a bad performance. And while I’m certain that no Academy Award nomination will arise for her (I could be wrong), “Flash” is harmless and lightweight, with moments that drag (sometimes this film feels like a boring, extended rock concert), moments that are tender (the ending while inconclusive, is perky), and plenty of plot threads (Streep’s character connects with her messed up daughter, Streep’s character has a moment of clarity with her ex-husband, Streep’s character beds the lead guitarist in her band, etc.). Director Jonathan Demme fills his screen with well established personalities, he projects some out of the box casting (real-life rock star Rick Springfield, Charlotte Rae, and Meryl’s real-life daughter), and his storytelling sensibilities are adequate. But do we really care what happens to everybody considering that their conflicts are rather minuscule? Not really. And although Streep is likable playing Ricky Randazzo (her stage name), she gives off the stoner vibe half the time. Uh and honestly, could we as an audience, sympathize with someone who abandons their family, moves to California (from middle America), and never really makes it to rock-‘n’-roll glory? I think it would be difficult to care but hey, let the music play on.

    Featuring tunes from the film’s fictional cover band (The Flash) that channel the songbooks of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Lady Gaga (ugh), Ricki and the Flash tries to deepen your musical stenography yet doesn’t seem to veer deep enough. The story chronicles braided, leather-clad singer Linda (Streep). She used to be married to a wealthy businessman in Pete (Kevin Kline). Now she’s on her own, gigging at a dive bar in L.A. She’s got an earnest boyfriend (Rick Springfield as Greg), one album that bombed a while ago, and now has to fly back to Indiana’s state capital to comfort her estranged daughter who has been dumped after a short marriage (Mamie Gummer as Julie). Her other two cubs (one is happily gay and the other is getting married) are also alienated from her. Finally, she has to deal with her ex’s current wife who feels that Linda (or Ricki) has missed out on all of the children’s childhood happenings.

    Absent mommy time and missed birthdays/holidays aside, “Flash” wants us to believe that Ricki actually married Kline’s Pete but that seems so forgone. One of them lives in a tight mansion (common in the city of Indianapolis) while the other needs her daughter’s ex-husband’s credit card to procreate a total makeover (hair, nails, shampoo treatment you name it). Bullocks!

    In retrospect, I attended a screening of “Flash” and a friend of mine (in the audience) chatted me up about what a chameleon Streep is as an actress. She can be made to look older or younger. She can play anything from a cancer-stricken southerner (like in August: Osage County) to a conservative therapist (like in 2005’s Prime) to a sexy divorcee (2009’s It’s Complicated). But what baffles me is why her Ricki here is made to be such a louse. This is a woman who takes home a four hundred dollar paycheck, works at a supermarket, and is filing for bankruptcy. What’s the point in honoring her plight? Oh and let’s not forget who’s responsible for the inception of Ricki and the Flash. You have two Academy Award winners (Jonathan Demme and Diablo Cody) on board and this can’t be their latest, unequivocal Waterloo, can’t it? Cody, who’s a brilliant screenwriter (as exhibited in 2007’s Juno), litters the screen with family dysfunction cliches and garbled dialogue robbing Rick Springfield from distributing any sense of acting chops (“it’s not their job for your kids to love you, it’s your job to love them”, huh?). It appears she’s on holiday (look for a cameo of this Lemont, Illinois native dancing freely to The Flash’s jams). As for Demme, well he’s a music aficionado (from what I’ve heard) so I’ll give him a sympathy pass. But honestly, with his signature camerawork (lots of zoom shots), his shtick looks out of place and there’s a sense that he just might be on holiday as well. Together they collaborate on something that’s not necessarily uneven, just more akin to a late night rental. My rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • Sure, Meryl Streep sings and plays the gee-tar real good and once again acts up a subtle touching storm. Sure, this is another funny story about a dysfunctional family. And sure, the film has all the tension and delivers all the satisfactions of a standard American romantic comedy. But its real kick is its political undertaking.
    The dysfunctional family quickly comes to represent the cultural wars on America’s present landscape. Director Jonathan Demme sets up a situation where we’re tempted to define the characters as either Red or Blue state, Right or Left, Republican or Democrat, but then denies us that schemata. The harmony that Ricki’s bar band brings her son’s snobby whole foods wedding is a rejection of the division in US politics. It’s a provocative riff on America’s political rift.
    Ricki (Streep) and Greg (Rick Springfield) are old hippies still living their musical lives on the cheap and raunchy. She took the hippie’s “I need to be me” excuse to abandon her family and here staves off her lover’s devotion. But now she’s Republican. One of her first quips is a slam at Obama’s presidency. She’s one of those who “wants our country back.” She’s “for the troops.” She wears an Old Glory tattoo on her back. She’s working LA but her bar and band evoke the Okie from Muskokie.
    But there’s a reason she starts the wedding set with a Bruce Springsteen song — the same reason Springsteen climaxed the Jon Stewart farewell. Springsteen is the working class hero, Born in the USA, who crosses all political lines. He can criticize the government without imperilling his patriotic cred. And that’s what Ricki grows into. The hippie turned redneck turns back to proper liberal values when she returns to her troubled daughter, confronts the bereft girl’s ex, and openly embraces her gay son and his lover. Ricki represents an America that has grown out of its cultural split. The film’s ethic lies in the lyrics of Rikci’s songs, in regard to both the personal and the national dilemmas.
    Her ex Peter (Kevin Kline) apparently flirted with Ricki’s hippiehood but couldn’t make the leap. He stayed behind to become a corporate success — the Republican type — but trails clouds of his liberal glory nonetheless. He married a black woman — one with class, culture and wealth — who gives his children the mothering Ricki abandoned. Now, after an awkward exchange with Rikki, she is instrumental in bringing Ricki back to her family for the son’s wedding.
    Despite the very formulaic sentimental plot Demme continually surprises us with his characters’ behaviour. The son that didn’t want Ricki at his wedding welcomes her most warmly and takes the initiative to start the dance to her Springsteen. She gets his blessing. That prompts the younger members of the stiff crowd to rip up the floor themselves. When Peter dissolves from his medicinal weed we expect him to renew his old nuptial rites (as does Rikki). But he’s done with that. He’s not the old free hippie. He prefers his new life. So, too, his wife Maureen’s generosity, after her acrid exchange with Ricki. When Ricki claims Peter still loves her, Maureen says “I’ll let you have that.” She is secure enough to allow Ricki that face-saving delusion.
    Demme has often worked in musicals, from Stop Making Sense through three docs with Neil Young. (There’s an even older Young lookalike in the Flash.) Here Demme exercises his love of lyric and rock to dramatize an America where the current split into Right and Left just doesn’t — needn’t — hold up. The country doesn’t have to be split as enraged as it is. To recover unity and harmony they have to remember they are one family, America, and reach out to each other. And dance.

  • (Rating: ☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is not recommended.

    In brief: No real sparks.

    GRADE: C+

    Ricki has no flash. The film is a simple by-the-numbers story of yet another dysfunctional family who will fight and argue but be brought together before the end credits. It’s a certainty whenever one is in this melodramatic territory. Yet with its superior cast and skillful director, expectations were still high. Unfortunately, there is no great build-up, no surprise revelations, no emotional connection. It’s run-of-the-mill stuff. And while the musical numbers, of which there are many, give us a few sparks, the plot and characters lack any charisma or depth. Sadly, Ricky and the Flash is a waste of talent and time.

    The plot involves a free-spirited rock musician, Ricky (well played by Meryl Streep) who deserted her husband. Pete (an underused Kevin Kline) and her family to follow her path and become a rock star. Success still alludes her, although she has a younger boyfriend , Greg (Rick Springfield) who adores her. Now, she is called back into the life of her daughter, Julie (the talented Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) who is having a traumatic breakdown. Ricki returns to help out and becomes an unwelcome guest and a liberating force as she must now come to terms with the lasting effects of her lifestyle decision.

    Director Jonathan Demme seems more focused on the film’s musical segments rather than the behind-the-scenes family drama. There are so many missed opportunities with the characters and their splintered relationships to further involve the moviegoing audience, but none are realized.in Diablo Cody’s fractured screenplay. Side plots about other siblings’ lives are sidetracked and are incomplete in the telling. These could have been more compelling additions to the story, but they are overlooked in order to showcase Ms. Streep’s vocal renditions.

    The actors do their best but the script doesn’t give them enough gravitas. Streep is strong as Ricki, although her character’s political vent remains an enigma. Kline is good in his scenes but his actions simply do not match his words as written by Ms. Cody. Mr. Springfield has loads of charisma and has a nice screen presence. Ms. Gummer is excellent and brings a subtle vulnerability to her character. Her acting is impressive and would make any mother proud, including her own. Audra MacDonald as Pete’s wife adds greatly to her small role and Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate as Julie’s brothers are both fine, even if their roles don’t amount to much on screen.

    Ricki and the Flash is somewhat entertaining mostly due to its cast, but the film rarely gives off any spark. It could have been better.

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  • Disjointed and diffuse, slight and strained, clichéd and contrived, Ricki and the Flash is a film of too many frequently competing elements, none of which are fully fleshed out enough to gain even a tiny bit of traction.

    Meryl Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo, a.k.a. Linda Brummell, once a full-time wife and mother and now a sixtysomething frontwoman of The Flash, a popular local band that covers the likes of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Pink, and Lady Gaga. The movie itself often plays like a cover version of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s Young Adult and director Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, diluting those film’s thornier elements for a palatable but inconsequential look at a flawed and selfish protagonist forced to confront the choices she has made before the closing credits roll.

    The movie wastes little time in showing viewers Ricki in all her uneven glory. After a rousing performance of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Ricki eases into some awkward stage banter, displaying her Republican streak and arguing with guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield) about the true nature of their relationship. She later apologises by reasoning the onstage tension is what the crowd wants – isn’t romantic conflict what made Fleetwood Mac so famous and popular?

    Though she has historically stayed away from the family she left behind all those years ago, Ricki decides to return to Indianapolis after taking an urgent call from ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline). Their daughter Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) is in a downward spiral after having been dumped by her husband for another woman. Indeed Julie is a sight – unwashed and sporting the most remarkable next of matted and untangled hair – a woman unhinged and oblivious to most everything but her own suffering. She is not particularly welcoming of Linda, pointedly refusing to address her by either her stage name or “Mother,” and delivers a withering assessment of her mother’s leather get-up: “Do you have a gig tonight or do you always dress like a hooker from Night Court?”

    Ricki receives more of the same from her sons. Older son Josh (Sebastian Stan) is forgiving, but has kept her in the dark about his upcoming wedding to the humourless Emily (Hailey Gates). Younger son Adam (Nick Westrate), meanwhile, rails into her for her narrowmindedness of his homosexuality and, when Ricki admonishes him for calling Julie an attention-seeking psycho, sarcastically praises Ricki for her parenting skills. Of course, Ricki will make up for lost time and naturally Pete’s feelings for his ex-wife will resurface, the latter situation abetted by some refrigerated marijuana. Sophie’s Choice co-stars Streep and Kline play the moment beautifully, encapsulating their characters’ history of love and loss with an economy of gesture and expression conveying a surfeit of feeling.

    With the exception of that scene and Ricki’s confrontation with Maureen (Audra McDonald), the woman who has supplanted her as wife and mother, Ricki and the Flash seems allergic to delving into any sort of complication. Family dysfunction abounds yet one would never know it as it’s cloaked under so much politeness.

    “Mick Jagger had seven kids with four different women,” Ricki announces in between songs, “he didn’t actually raise them but…Daddy can do whatever Daddy wants.” It’s a fine piece of writing that questions the double standard that allows men to more easily shed family responsibilities. Yet the dialogue is as disconnected as most everything else in this film. It does not shed any light on either Ricki’s motivations or even the repercussions experienced by all involved except in the most superficial of ways.

    Were it not for the redoubtable Streep and the strong supporting work from Kline, Gummer and McDonald, Ricki and the Flash would be barely watchable.

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