6 out of 10
Meryl Streep as Ricki Rendazzo
Mamie Gummer as Julie
Rick Springfield as Greg
Kevin Kline as Pete Brummel
Sebastian Stan as Joshua
Hailey Gates as Emily
Ben Platt as Daniel
Audra McDonald as Maureen
Charlotte Rae as Oma
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) is enjoying her raucous nights leading her California bar band Ricki and the Flash until her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) contacts her about their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer), who is distraught after her husband left her. Ricki returns home to Indianapolis to try to offer emotional support, only to get caught up in the aggression her kids still feel towards her for leaving them thirty years earlier.
It’s hard not to set expectations high for Jonathan Demme’s first narrative film in six years, mainly because it combines two things he does best – light drama and rockin’ music. Working from a screenplay by Diablo Cody and reteaming him with Meryl Streep also offers one hope that Ricki and the Flash is a return to form for the Oscar-winning filmmaker, but unfortunately Demme’s returns fails to have much of an impact, maybe because it never really lives up to its potential on paper.
The Ricki and the Flash of the title is Meryl Streep and her bar cover band who are jamming away as the film opens, before she gets a call from her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) suggesting she return home to help console their daughter Julie, played by Streep’s eldest daughter Mamie Gummer. As soon as Ricki arrives in Indianapolis, it becomes obvious that you’re watching one of those truly sappy family dramedies that normally would be a low-budget indie if not for its prestigious star. We’re constantly reminded how Ricki left her family behind and hasn’t been in touch in the decades since then in order to chase her dream of being a musician.
With each movie Streep does, I’m becoming less and less enamored by her, maybe because she’s so aware of her own talent that she makes everything she does look easy, which in this case includes singing while playing guitar with a live rock band. The fact that nothing seems to challenge her makes it hard to appreciate what seems to be showing off and that greatly takes away from believing in the character since you always know you’re watching Meryl Streep. Even so, she’s dressed so outlandishly it’s jarring. She generally looks fine while performing on stage, but she seems to be showing her age in the close-ups where the make-up seems to be enhancing that fact rather than trying to mask it. It seems like a deliberate choice, too.
It doesn’t help that her co-star and love interest, the Flash’s lead guitarist Greg, played by rocker Rick Springfield, looks significantly younger than Streep despite being only a year younger. Springfield is actually the film’s biggest surprise since he can hold his own against Streep during their dramatic scenes and gives the musical scenes a much-needed energy boost. Mamie Gummer proves that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, as she also has the dramatic chops to go toe-to-toe with her mother, but the lack of music during their section of the movie sucks the energy delivered by the film’s opening number.
Diablo Cody’s screenplay is not quite on par with some of her earlier ones, maybe because it seems like she’s trying to make something more accessible for Streep’s mainstream fans. It’s an interesting combination of sensibilities for sure and there’s a fine light wit in the dialogue, but it also lacks the edgy charm of Cody’s earlier work.
The film then returns to California where we get more musical moments with the Flash – and honestly, as someone who is into live music and rock, it’s surprising that I couldn’t appreciate those scenes more, especially with great like Bernie Worrell playing in the band. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t that impressed with the song choices that range from Tom Petty to Lady Gaga. At this point, Ricki needs to come to terms with the fact that Greg has serious feelings for her, but before Ricki returns to her drab day-to-day, she returns to Indianapolis with Greg for her son Adam’s wedding.
Not only does that culminate with Ricki giving a big wedding speech–probably the most obvious cliché for any movie involving a wedding (including Demme’s previous one Rachel Getting Married)–but that leads into the even more predictable ending of Ricki and her band performing a Springsteen tune at the wedding that somehow convinces her entire family to forgive and forget. It’s such a ridiculous and hard to believe ending, it makes it painfully obvious Ricki and the Flash never had any desire to depict real people or situations.
The Bottom Line:
For what it is, some people will probably enjoy Rikki and the Flash, because it’s a fairly benign and innocuous depiction of rock musicians, but for those expecting more from the pedigree of those involved, it’s a fairly flat and forgettable dramedy.
Ricki and the Flash
Ricki and the Flash
Ricki and the Flash
Streep & Springfield (Ricki & Greg) perform with the Flash at the Salt Well.
Rick (Meryl Streep) in TriStar Pictures' RICKI AND THE FLASH.
Ricki (Meryl Streep) and Greg (Rick Springfield) in TriStar Pictures' RICKI AND THE FLASH.
Greg (Rick Springfield), Ricki (Meryl Streep) and Julie (Mamie Gummer) in TriStar Pictures' RICKI AND THE FLASH.
Julie (Mamie Gummer) and Ricki (Meryl Streep) in TriStar Pictures' RICKI AND THE FLASH.