Ricki and the Flash Review


One week before Ricki and the Flash opened in theaters, we were met with a film called The End of the Tour about author David Foster Wallace. The two films have next to nothing in common, but I bring up The End of the Tour because I think its title perfectly describes where Ricki and the Flash‘s characters are in life.

By titling the film the way they do, director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody (assuming they’re responsible for the film’s title, which they very well might not be) are putting the focus squarely on the character of Ricki and the most important thing in her life — her music. It’s an optimistic title, maybe accidentally so, but there’s hope in introducing oneself. “Hi, how are ya doing? We’re Ricki and the Flash.”

The End of the Tour, meanwhile, describes where Ricki and the Flash are in their lives and careers. The Salt Well is their literal place, but success-wise, this is it. They’ve reached their last stop. This California dive is where Ricki and the Flash will die.

I’m not advocating that anyone should have called Ricki and the Flash something different, nor am I making any further parallels between two completely distinct films. But a film’s title sets its tone, and Ricki and the Flash is a very “sunny side up” sort of film about seeking forgiveness and having it all. It firmly believes that families can figure it out, and while Cody’s characters aren’t as fully-fleshed out as those in Demme’s similarly themed masterpiece Rachel Getting Married, it’s nonetheless a lively and lovely time at the movies.

Ricki is played by the incomparable Meryl Streep, and years ago, she made a decision to leave her good-natured husband Pete (Kevin Kline), three children, and Indiana home for California and dreams of rock-n-roll superstardom. But that level of success, fame, and adoration never comes. Alongside her (sort of) boyfriend and lead guitarist, Greg (Rick Springfield), and the rest of the Flash, she toils away at the aforementioned Salt Well, covering classic rock hits and modern nonsense like “Bad Romance” in equal measure for the bars dozen or so regulars.

During the day, she toils away as a cashier at a Whole Foods knock-off. There, she’s Linda and miserable. Everything gets shaken up, however, when Pete calls and says their only daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer), is having a nervous breakdown after her husband left her for another woman. So Ricki gets on a plane and tries to reconnect with people she let down in a big way many years ago.

There’s an awkward “re-getting-to-know-you” phase for Linda/Ricki and everyone in her family. Her daughter is practically catatonic. Pete is laughably forgiving. And each of her two sons takes a different path — one won’t give her the time of day, while the other is clearly the family peacekeeper who’s willing to let bygones be bygones. It’s easy to identify with someone in this clan, no matter what your family background is, but don’t accuse Ricki and the Flash of being soft and simple. The introduction of Pete’s steely new wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), further complicates this clan while suggesting that such complications aren’t impassable mountains.

But let’s face it: people have seen and will see this movie because Meryl Streep is a rock star, and hell, she’s a damn good one. None of the movie’s musical sequences falls flat — at least not because of Streep and her gang — and as if it even needs saying, she nails the film’s dramatic scenes without ever going full ham and running everyone else off the screen.

Rick Springfield, surprisingly enough, probably gives the film’s other truly noteworthy performance. The drifting Ricki needs an anchor. Her family wasn’t that for her years ago, and Greg is trying to be that for her now. She resists, but he doesn’t relent. Their push and pull is both fascinating and the source of some of the film’s strongest scenes.

Diablo Cody wrote the film’s screenplay, and it’s probably the best she’s done outside of the searing Young Adult. Ricki and the Flash is squishier than that Charlize Theron vehicle, but it’s a heavier film, too, chronicling more relatable situations and characters. What I mean to say is that I admire where Cody is going, and working with a director like Demme — who knows what to do, always — is a step forward.

The film’s ending is a bit of a cheat, but it earns most of its emotional payoff. Mostly, it’s just a fun movie that draws you in because it’s friendly faces doing mostly nice, enjoyable things. It’s not the world ending, or some sort of political conspiracy, or people taking advantage of one another. It’s a family working through some issues and trying to figure out how to have a damn good time together, and I pretty much did along with them.

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One Response to Ricki and the Flash Review

  1. Pingback: Reviews: Ricki and the Flash (2015) – Online Film Critics Society

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