Editor’s Notes: Ricki and the Flash is currently open in wide theatrical release.
It takes courage to follow you dreams, especially when it means leaving your three children and husband behind to pursue them. Men are praised when doing so, but women are cursed if they even think about doing such a thing. Acceptable societal norm or crippling double standard? Ricki, as played by Meryl Streep in Jonathan Demme’s wonderful and entertaining Ricki and the Flash, would argue that it is the latter.
A story completely devoid of the stereotype-laden stock characters that usually populate such a film.
Ricki and the Flash is the story of a mother who returns home after leaving her husband and three children behind years before to pursue her dream of being a rock star. Her success hasn’t exactly been earth shattering; working a day job at Total Foods just to barely make ends meet, she released one album and performs shows consisting mostly of cover songs (mostly classics, but modern ones every so often to please the kids in the audience) to a handful of people in L.A. dive bars.
Wether or not Ricki’s decision was the best one for everyone involved isn’t an issue at all here. In what may be her most mature screenplay to date, Diablo Cody provides as limited a backstory as possible and focuses instead on the ways in which Ricki’s choices affected both herself and everyone in her family. With a movie like Rachel Getting Married on his resume, Jonathan Demme is no stranger to movies involving familial conflict. His style fuses gloriously with Cody’s distinct voice, making for a story completely devoid of the stereotype-laden stock characters that usually populate such a film.
Streep has shown us over and over that she is capable of playing any sort of character, but Ricki is one of the most real and believable characters she’s ever created.
As Ricki, Meryl Streep delivers her best performance since Doubt. Ricki can be over the top and abrasive, and it’s fun to watch Streep chew the scenery and show off her impeccable comedic timing. But we’ve seen Streep chew the screen quite often as of late; what we haven’t seen is Streep’s mastery at subtlety. There are multiple moments in the film where a dialogue-free facial expression from Streep conveys eons about her character. Streep has shown us over and over that she is capable of playing any sort of character, but Ricki is one of the most real and believable characters she’s ever created.
Streep’s effectiveness is made even more potent by the way in which she interacts with her colorful troop of costars. Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter, is particularly memorable as Ricki’s daughter, deftly balancing her character’s extreme sides in a way that stays believable and refrains from going overboard. Kevin Kline is also fun to watch as the uptight ex-husband, though Audra McDonald steals the show as Kline’s new wife and Ricki’s replacement. Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate are also fun to watch as Ricki’s two estranged sons.
While the interactions between the characters are thoroughly engaging, the movie does have a few spots where it falls prey to some unavoidable cliches. For the most part, Demme’s intimate direction prevents them from derailing the film as a whole, but ultimately the film becomes bogged down between the second and third act thanks to a contrived development involving Ricki returning to L.A. only to return for the grand finale.
The film only drags momentarily though, and quickly returns to be a wonderful celebration of life and the ways in which we interact as humans. Though it’s a tad frustrating that we don’t get to hear more original songs from Streep and her band, Ricki and the Flash is one of the few movies that successfully conveys the ways in which music touches the musician. Demme allows the show scenes to go on a bit longer than other directors normally would. Music is all that Ricki has, and it is what drives her. The tunes that Ricki and her band play may be familiar, but Demme and Cody employ them as a means of providing more of a glimpse into Ricki as a person. In lesser hands, Ricki and the Flash could have been another indistinguishable entry in the family drama canyon, but the effort from everyone involved ensures that this is a film that won’t soon be forgotten.
The film only drags momentarily though, and quickly returns to be a wonderful celebration of life and the ways in which we interact as humans. In lesser hands, Ricki and the Flash could have been another indistinguishable entry in the family drama canyon, but the effort from everyone involved ensures that this is a film that won’t soon be forgotten.