"Ricki and the Flash" will be remembered for one thing. It won't be remembered for the great direction of Jonathan Demme, the director behind such greats as "Philadelphia" and "The Silence of the Lambs". It won't be remembered for the groundbreaking screenplay by Diablo Cody, the writer of "Juno". And it won't be remembered for the great acting of Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. Why won't it be remembered for these things? Because none of these things exist in this very bad, very boring film. "Ricki" will be remembered as one of the biggest disappointments of the summer of 2015.
There are other disappointing films out there, but because of the people making this film – and I'm talking Demme and Streep – you expect more. What they have delivered is less, a lot less, than you can imagine and this makes "Ricki and the Flash" even more disappointing.
Ricki (Streep), an aging musician singing power rock covers at a lonely, dark bar in Tarzana (that's the San Fernando Valley, folks) with her band The Flash, follows her dream. Her back-up/ boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) stands at her side night after night despite the fact she doesn't really want to commit to him. Ricki returns to her small apartment in a run-down building and worries about the bills – to make ends meet, she works days at Total Foods, nicknamed 'Total Paycheck'…
--- That Diablo Cody! She sure knows how to work tired and old jokes into the screenplay.---
Then Ricki gets a call from Pete (Kline), her ex-husband who lives in Indiana. Their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep's real daughter) is having an emotional crisis because her new husband has left her for another woman. Ricki scrapes together the cash and heads back to try and provide emotional support. Julie doesn't seem to embrace her long-absent mother and her two adult sons, Josh (Sebastian Stan, "Captain America") and Adam (Nick Westrate, TV's "TURN: Washington's Spies") have different reactions to her return. Josh is engaged, which Ricki didn't know, and she learns that her son doesn't want her at the wedding. Then, Pete's wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald) returns home from visiting her sick dad and her harsh words drive Ricki back to her life in California.
Let's start with La Streep. One of the most respected, adventurous, well-reviewed and beloved actresses, Streep is not content to rest on her laurels and just make one superb drama after another. Because of this, she does comedies, musicals, big budget, independent. The problem is that these 'other' films are generally less successful. Meryl decides to do a musical ("Mamma Mia", "Into the Woods") and surprises everyone by singing and doing it well. Meryl decides to do comedy ("The Devil Wears Prada", "Death Becomes Her") and has people talking about how funny she is. Meryl wants to do an action film ("The River Wild") and then never does another. Meryl wants to do a YA dystopian film ("The Giver") and takes a small role in an independent ("The Homesman") and people still talk about her involvement. The problem with these films is that while Meryl is almost always good, the films as a whole are more spotty. "Ricki and the Flash" proves to be the exception to that rule. Not only is it not a well-made film, but Streep is also not very good.
A lot of the film, too much really, is about Ricki and her band singing. In fact, they sing the one original song twice. The rest of the time, they sing covers, which are good, Streep does a good job singing (we already know she can sing because she starred in "Mamma Mia" and "Into The Woods"). But there are too many and this prevents the narrative from having the time to fully explore the relationships between the various family members. Maybe that's a good thing, because the family, and their problems, are pretty cookie cutter.
The film opens with Ricki and the Flash on stage at their nightly gig, singing covers. This is a smart way to show us that Streep is going to sing, can sing well, and to introduce us to this element of her life. The bar is a tired, sad joint filled with people past their prime drinking and dancing to forget their troubles. But this happens about five or six times. We get it. We get it. We don't need to see a bunch of sad looking people(including writer Diablo Cody at one point) dancing to their songs. Strangely, Ricki announces that they learned a new song, for the clients requesting it, and proceeds to sing "Bad Romance". This prompts a group of twenty-somethings sitting at a table in back to run up front and start dancing, avoiding the glares of the majority of other customers, all of who are at least fifty. This happens again later, when they sing a Pink cover. These are strange moments as well. On the one hand, it seems like Ricki is trying to attract a younger audience, but that seems to be alienating her devoted followers. It's not like Ricki and the Flash are ever going to play a proper venue , let alone fill it.
Ricki is an 80s rocker living in the year 2015. She wears too much make-up, too much jewelry, still uses terms like "That's heavy, man." And Streep plays this to the hilt. The only problem is that no one, not even her band mates, are on this same wavelength, this same level. Not even Springfield's Greg is like this. He seems to have adapted to the 21st century. Because of this Streep's portrayal seems cartoonish and doesn't mesh with the rest of the world. It becomes especially grating when she returns to Indiana and begins interacting with her estranged family. They are the normal sitcom or television family, upper middle-class, living in the Midwest. And Ricki re-enters this world, a world where she grew up, and simply remains the same Ricki from Los Angeles. She doesn't seem to recognize or remember anything about this other world. It all seems to foreign to her. I think most people would adapt, or change, at least a little, when they re-enter a once familiar place. The revered actress's performance is way over the top and never really changes level.
Oh, well. Next up for Streep is a supporting role in the historical drama "Suffragette" complete with fake British accent.
Much of the problem with Streep's portrayal of Ricki comes from the screenplay by Diablo Cody.
Cody's first film was "Juno" which garnered almost universal acclaim, created a ton of buzz and made her someone to watch. Since then, she has gone from writing bad ("Jennifer's Body") to just plain disappointing ("Young Adult") screenplays. Now, with "Ricki and the Flash", she seems to be attempting a family drama, but nothing goes much below the surface. At one point, Ricki's gay son fires back an insult at her, noting something about her personal philosophy, that is just simply bizarre. There is no way someone like Ricki would have these beliefs. Cody has done this to simply make Ricki seem different and interesting. It isn't true to her character. Most of the family is given similar treatment. We know Julie and her husband have broken up, but we never really learn why because Julie is flashing hot and cold from one minute to the next. One minute, she hates her mother, the next, she willingly goes to the salon with her. She never has a chance to provide these details.
In short, Cody can't seem to decide what message she wants to get across to the audience and includes a lot of songs to make up the slack.
Also, when Ricki flees back to California, you can already map the last act in your head. You know she will return for her son's wedding, with Greg, and sing. The return to California seems designed to simply provide an excuse for another song at the sad bar. At the wedding, two more songs. It's sloppy and lazy plotting and character development.
When you see a mess like "Ricki and the Flash", all blame usually falls to the director. Yes, the writer created the blueprint and the actor creates the performance, but the director is in charge. He should be able to spot the holes in a script and either pass on the project or ask for a rewrite. He should be able to spot a performance out of sync with the rest and try to dial it down. And when your previous work includes films like "Philadelphia" and "The Silence of the Lambs", the audience expects more from you.
In the last few years, Demme has been concentrating his efforts on documentaries, primarily about musicians, and short subjects. Perhaps the work with musicians and his desire to make a drama led him to make this film. Not sure, but at some point he should have been able to see the problems and make some corrections. Because he didn't, the film resembles something a first-time director would make. Not something a seasoned veteran had their hands on.
All of the other actors are okay, but no one really stands out and because these three weren't working at the top of their game, nothing else works.
"Ricky and the Flash" is a mess and you'll be hard pressed to sit through it.