Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the Flash

Fear not, fans of Meryl Streep; you can still shout from the rooftops that your idol truly can do anything.

Ricki and the Flash

2 / 5

Fear not, fans of Meryl Streep; you can still shout from the rooftops that your idol truly can do anything. The 66-year-old actress does a great job embodying the spirit of Ricki, a washed-up rocker fronting a bar band that does covers of classic rock hits and a taste of modern pop for the kids. And she can sing them with spirit and energy and moments of passion, even when she’s not hitting the right notes.

It’s not a world-beating effort on her part, but it is charming to see her play such a downmarket character who is struggling to scrape by while working the cash register at a high-end grocery store, and struggling to help her recently divorced daughter (played by Streep’s real-life kid, Mamie Gummer) mentally recover from the emotional trauma. And Streep’s performance might have seemed even better if the film surrounding her role were worth the work she put into it.

Not to drop all the blame in one person’s lap, but this disparity is becoming emblematic of much of Diablo Cody’s writing. With better source material and a stronger director at the helm, there’s no doubt that the impressive acting of both Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt in Young Adult, or the supporting cast of the short-lived series “United States of Tara” (particularly Brie Larson and Keir Gilchrist who played Tara’s teen kids) would have scored them all copious awards. Unfortunately, Cody’s dialogue and situations often tend to be far too mannered and polished, and the work of Jason Reitman and the various folks who manned the three seasons of “Tara” brought nothing exciting to the table.

The increasing shame of this film is that Jonathan Demme manned the director’s chair for Ricki. A typically sure hand behind the wheel, there’s little of the spark and grit that he has brought to even the most glossy of affairs such as his light comedy Married to the Mob or the otherwise forgettable Charade remake, The Truth About Charlie. Outside of a few scenes of Ricki’s band—a murderer’s row of session giants like Bernie Worrell and the late Rick Rosas, as well as a scruffed-up Rick Springfield on lead guitar—losing themselves in their covers of Tom Petty or the Doobie Brothers, the whole thing has the sheen of a made-for-TV movie.

Perhaps I’m not giving Demme enough credit on that front, as that kind of hollow, static look really befits the material at hand. As cute as it can be to watch Ricki go out of her element as she returns to Indianapolis to be with the family she ran away from in pursuit of her rock star dreams, every potential bit of raw honesty and truth gets swept aside or quickly pushed back into place like a stray hair. Even the scenes of real tension, like Ricki learning that her youngest son is engaged and doesn’t want his estranged mother at the ceremony, can’t seem to find the right mixture of comedy and drama.

Beyond Streep’s onscreen presence, what gets swallowed up is plenty of other fine acting work by Gummer, Springfield and Kevin Kline as Ricki’s stodgy ex-husband, and a surprisingly clear-eyed look at how working-class musicians operate. They’re no match for Cody’s hyperstylized scripts and fumbling attempts at bringing the struggles and small triumphs of human life to the silver screen.

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