Ricki and the Flash

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan, Audra McDonald, Rick Springfield, Nick Westrate, Ben Platt, Hailey Gates
Directed By: Jonathan Demme

It’s important to note that this was written by Diablo Cody, and it feels very much like a Diablo Cody film. It feels absolutely nothing like a film from the guy who terrified us with Silence Of The Lambs, who brought us to tears in Philadelphia, or who did any number of serious works. This is a lighter take, a departure for Jonathan Demme, and one he probably shouldn’t take again. Sometimes you really only need to visit a place once, and I don’t need Demme to visit Diablo Cody’s world of dramady anytime soon. That being said, Meryl Streep is (again) acting her face off in this film. So, if you watched the credits and thought “I bet Meryl Streep is phenomenal in this”, she is. I can confirm.

There is very little to love about Ricki and the Flash beyond her performance (and also the performance by Mamie Gummer, who is turning into her mom… and that’s not a bad thing). The film often substitutes actual character development by having Ricki perform a full song. A FULL SONG. SEVERAL TIMES. There were a few moments that were nice. When she performed the acoustic original in her living room, that was needed and right for the moment. We could have used the end song too, I get that. And as a possible third entry, I’d nominate Drift Away. Every other song was performed too long, and set the movie back a great deal. In fact, the last half of the film becomes so performance heavy that it weighs the whole film down. We just had this wonderful trip and some solid interactions, followed by 15+ minutes of Ricki and the Flash performing. Unnecessary. I get that we wanted to see Ricki “getting back to being Ricki”, but you sacrificed story and human interaction for music. This is not a musical. The characters are not performing their emotions through music. You essentially made a hybrid drama-concert film, except the band in question is fictional.

As far as the drama goes, we needed so much more of it. Ricki is quickly forgiven by everyone. I get that she’s a badass, and you just can’t help but love Ricki, but it seemed so easy for everyone to just fall back into place. One son seems to forgive her in the same scene, while the other only requires a second scene. The daughter basically just sleeps on it, and seems to wake up with a different outlook on the “mom that was never there”. Either this is the most “peace, love, and harmony” family ever, or Diablo Cody has forgotten what actual conflict is. There was no scene where Ricki’s relationship with Julie ever seemed to take a step backward. I feel like it was too safe for Ricki to make solid progress, without ever “having words”. No one really says what they mean, except in smarmy suggestive overtones.

This film needed more emotional punch, but all the potential for that was traded in for Meryl Streep performing rock music. And, she’s great at it. Don’t get me wrong, she kills it. But I think she performed somewhere around 10 different songs throughout the movie. That’s a lot of music. She performs two songs just at the tail end, and then sings a third song through the credits. We get it. She’s a musician. I WANT STORY.

Rick Springfield was unexpectedly good as Ricki’s “rock” Greg. There’s a particular scene, where she’s nasty to him in front of the audience, and I could truly see his heart break. Not his character, but his heart broke in that moment. It felt so incredibly real. They have great chemistry together. If Meryl Streep wasn’t in this, and there was someone else, I’d probably rate this movie a C-. I can’t do that to Streep, because her performance warrants at least two bumps up. I wouldn’t be mad if she was nominated again for this performance, though I doubt she will be. I bow to her existence in film, and after this, I realize there truly isn’t anything she can’t do. I think her daughter, Gummer, has come a long way, and I hope she has the same trajectory that her mother has had. It has to be difficult living in her shadow, but it must also be awesome to learn from the best. If you’re a fan of Meryl Streep, you’ll probably tolerate Ricki and the Flash, but you can’t help but be at least a little disappointed by the end result.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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