Review: Ricki & The Flash
PLOT: Years after leaving her family to become a rock star, middle-aged Ricki (Meryl Streep) now fronting a bar band in L.A returns to the Indianapolis home of her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) to comfort her estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) whos suicidal after the break-up of her marriage.
REVIEW: Some movies you just cant be cynical about and doggone it RICKI AND THE FLASH is that kind of movie. My frequent movie-watching buddy (also named Chris) nailed it when he told me after the press screening that RICKI AND THE FLASH was like an eighties movie but in a good way. Indeed, visions of the Joan Jett/ Michael J. Fox team-up LIGHT OF DAY were dancing through my head as I was watching Meryl Streep belt out a bunch of rock tunes opposite real-life former pop idol Rick Springfield. Yet, as much as I initially scoffed at the premise I wound up having an excellent time at the movies with this far better than I would have expected.
Sure enough, the talent both behind and in front of the camera is uniformly excellent. Jonathan Demme, whos always had a great feel for music, is the right guy to direct this. He keeps everything moving at a snappy pace while occasionally introducing some eccentricities that give this film a little more quirk and edge than you might think such as Ricki being an unlikely conservative hawk and even a bit of a homophobe to her gay son. Things like this keep RICKI AND THE FLASH from going down too easy, as the main character is never really let off the hook for the fact that she walked out on her family. Were clearly supposed to like her but maybe not that much. Demmes direction, paired with Diablo Codys witty script gives this an energy and spunk that defies the saccharine trailer.
Of course, the whole thing hinges on Meryl Streeps performance and as usual for the great lady, she doesnt go wrong. Streeps so well-regarded that she could phone in a performance at this point and at least count on a Golden Globe nomination, but you have to give her credit for really working her tail off. Not only does she look the part of a rocker chick (she reminded me a bit of Stevie Nicks) but she also learned to play the guitar and nails all the songs (yes, she does her own singing).
A really nice surprise is the chemistry she shares with eighties rocker Rick Springfield. If you had told audiences back in the day that eventually Meryl Streep and Rick Springfield would make a movie together, people would have thought you were nuts but they work well together and make for a likable couple. Ever since his arc on Californication (as a coked-up exaggeration of himself) Springfields been doing really well as an actor (hes great on True Detective) and he holds his own opposite the legendary Streep.
Another really fun thing about RICKI AND THE FLASH is that it re-teams Meryl with the great Kevin Kline for the first time since 1982s SOPHIES CHOICE. Compared to that, this is a bit of a lark but the chemistry is still there and Kline manages to make what could have been a thin role work. Hes one of those guys that just always brings his A-game to the table, and watching him and Streep you get the sense that these two legends are not ones to rest on their laurels. Streeps daughter, Mamie Gummer, whos build up a solid resume for herself, is similarly good as Rickis suicidal daughter. This is another complicated part, with Demme not shying away from depicting her as bratty and selfish, although like he did with Anne Hathaway in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED you still like and root for her. Audra McDonald also makes a big impression as Klines picture-perfect new wife, whos raised the children in Rickis absence but is also depicted as a humane, compassionate person eager for Ricki to repair her fractured relationship with the kids for their own good.
By contrast, Rickis two sons, played by CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIERs Sebastian Stan and Ben Platt are given relatively little to do. The big climax comes at the Stan characters wedding but we havent really gotten a chance to identify too much with him by this point. Platts character especially feels like a missed opportunity as more could have been done with Rickis closed-mindedness towards his orientation rather than simply play it for laughs.
While not perfect and not the kind of movie that will pick up lots of award hardware (although Streep will certainly be nominated for something) RICKI AND THE FLASH is totally entertaining and well-worth checking out. Heck, even if the trailers have rubbed you the wrong way give it a chance. Its a solid date movie and a nice bit of counter-programming at this point in the summer.
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