UK Release Date: 4th September 2015
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Diablo Cody
Starring: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Audra McDonald
Synopsis: A woman who left her family behind in order to pursue rock stardom returns home to help her daughter deal with a messy divorce.
Meryl Streep is arguably the best actor of her generation. With 19 Oscar nominations under her belt and a string of indelible performances, her presence is enough to sell a movie. With Streep getting musical in the starring role, alongside Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) and Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody (Juno), Ricki and the Flash looked set to be a meaty exploration of balancing parenting with creative dreams. Weighty, it isn’t, but it is a charmer of a film.
Ricki Rendazzo (Streep) is the lead singer of a rock group, who are the house band of a tiny pub. She has an on-off relationship with bandmate Greg (Rick Springfield), which is troubled by her commitment issues. Ricki receives a call from ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), revealing that their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) has become withdrawn after a messy divorce. Desperate to help her daughter, Ricki returns home and must confront the decisions of her past.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Ricki and the Flash would only be half the film that it is without the goliath central presence of Meryl Streep. She brings a charisma to Rendazzo, imbuing her with the necessary self-confidence and occasional arrogance to initiate a career in the music business. Her chemistry with real-life daughter Mamie Gummer really helps the film, too, with both characters benefiting from a spiky repartee.
| "Hey, you guys are fighting. It’s like the 80s all over again."
Streep also excels when it comes to the musical side of Ricki and the Flash, bringing a real spark to the scenes of performance. Having learned guitar for the role, she’s never less than completely convincing. One scene, in which she joins Rick Springfield for an emotionally-charged rendition of Dobie Gray hit ‘Drift Away’ is the soaring emotional highlight of a film that packs its fair share of them. There’s sheer joy in watching Streep rock out on screen.
Gummer, too, is a presence of perfect comic timing throughout Ricki and the Flash. She’s scathing and nasty when needed to be, but also vulnerable in a way that mirrors her mother both in terms of life and art. Kevin Kline is less well-written as Streep’s estranged husband, but works well alongside Streep. Audra McDonald also does a solid job as Kline’s new partner, bringing surprising depth to a character who doesn’t seem to have piqued the interest of the script.
Despite the charm of its performances, Ricki and the Flash is a distinctly lightweight movie. Diablo Cody’s screenplay lacks much in the way of dramatic heft or witty bite and largely veers from one storytelling cliché to another, whereas Demme’s direction lacks much in the way of invention and is content to paint by numbers. There’s plenty of sweetness to the film, but there’s a complete absence of anything to thicken the pudding.
| "One day you’re gonna find a grey hair… and I don’t mean on your head."
There’s a surprising emotional potency to Ricki and the Flash, but it’s not a film that lingers in the mind for long once the credits roll. It’s Streep that makes this worthwhile, but a strong supporting cast falls nicely into place around her to conjure up a tale that, though enjoyable, lacks the magic that its creative team have put together in the past.
Pop or Poop?
Powered by the catchy riff that is Meryl Streep’s guitar-strumming central performance, Ricki and the Flash is a loveable film with a heartfelt story at its centre and plenty of laughs in its script.
However, as the film piles clichés on top of tropes on top of conventions, it collapses into something that veers towards saccharine. Thankfully, there’s always another musical number around the corner to lift the film towards its emotional high points.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.