Jonathon Demme’s latest film, Ricki and the Flash, is a look into the rock-n-roll world of failed dreams and stardom, with a script written by Diablo Cody (Young Adult). The films stars Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) as the titular character Ricki: a never-has-been musician, playing a dive bar at night and working in a shopping market by day to make ends meet. When her estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) suffers a breakdown, she returns home to the family she once abandoned for the stage, and finds that she might have one last chance at redemption.
Streep, as always, is wonderful as the failed rocker, unwilling to relent on her life’s dream of stardom, but slipping into the role almost seems too easy for her. She almost appears to be going through the motions in order to add another unique character to her catalogue, and perhaps if the script had allowed her some more dramatic payoff for the issues it explores, the film would have been much more worthy of her talents. She does, however, get a chance to shine through her performances of rock classics, as well as some newer songs for the younger generation, that help cement her presence as a seasoned rock performer.
Gummer (The End of the Tour) is somewhat the standout performance bringing a real fire to her betrayed and borderline suicidal character, although unfortunately gets lost towards the film’s end. It’s apparent that in her first staring role opposite her mother (Streep), Gummer set out to make an impression on audiences and create a clear argument for her talent as an actress in her own right. While never becoming so obvious that it detracts from her performance, there are times though that her energy and effort do work against her, making her acting seem slightly over the top, but only because she is noticeably more invested in her role than her seasoned colleagues.
Rick Springfield (General Hospital) does well as Streep’s lover, with the two having a relaxed chemistry, and brings some emotional weight to his scenes. Kevin Kline (Bob’s Burgers) gets a couple of nice moments, adding to the dysfunctional family dynamic, as does Audra Mcdonald (Private Practice) as Maureen, the step-mother who was more of a mother than Ricki ever was, although both are greatly under serviced with no real emotional development.
The main disappointment of the film is that it’s first half is filled with conflicts that never really develop. Ricki is portrayed as a flawed character; unable to see beyond her own selfish desires, with racist tendencies, and a love for George Bush that only a die-hard republican could muster. These things are set up to clearly contrast with the views of the estranged family she now finds herself trying to fit into again, and yet most of these things go unresolved, being completely glossed over by movie’s end, much like Julie’s suicide attempt that is apparently resolved with not much more than a haircut. Even when Maureen confronts Ricki about her return to the family, there are obvious racial undertones in their argument but the film refuses to delve into these issues at all, and instead merely gives them a nod before sticking Streep on stage again to play another rock hit.
For some reason Ricki and the Flash wants to be a gritty drama dealing with some serious issues, while still being a light-hearted film that one could get for their mother on DVD for mother’s day. While sprinkled here and there with some of the sarcastic snark and witticisms that Cody’s writing is so known for, this is definitely one of her weakest ventures so far when compared to her previous achievements. Anyone in the mood for a bubbly drama without the need to think, or just a Streep fan in general, would be well-served, but for those looking for a deeper well to draw from, this is not the film for you.
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