REVIEW: Ricki and the Flash

8 08 2015

The knives come out in “Ricki and the Flash,” the latest big screen outing written by “Juno” scripter Diablo Cody.  The film stars Meryl Streep as the titular character, a rock musician who ditched parenting her three children to entertain a half-full dive bar.  When her daughter Julie (Streep’s own daughter, Mamie Gummer) suffers a breakdown after getting unceremoniously dumped by her husband, Ricki is called off the bench and get in the family game once more.

Not unlike Cody’s 2011 effort “Young Adult,” articulate characters relish in shanking each other with particularly cutting remarks.  Decades of resentment get dredged out in the wake of Ricki’s reappearance with each of her estranged children as well as her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and his new wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) seeking to land the final blow.  “Ricki and the Flash” plays out much like a theatrical family melodrama that packs an especially potent load of venom.

Director Jonathan Demme’s last fictional feature, “Rachel Getting Married,” featured a similar set of conflicts hashed out between relatives.  He could have settled for directing “Ricki and the Flash” on autopilot, repeating the same techniques to produce a similarly effective result.  Yet rather than replicating his verité-style camera, heavy on observational close-ups to glean emotional breakthroughs, Demme opts for something a little more standard here.

Normally, that might make for a sticking point.  But it feels like the right choice to convey Cody’s story.  Though no subgenre of “deadbeat dad” dramas exists, she seems to make a sort of gender-swapped revision to the stock character.  Presenting Ricki within a more traditional framework, ironically, draws attention to how she bristles with the established conventions of storytelling.

Meryl in Ricki and the Flash

While Cody may delight in tossing barbs for her characters to hurl, mean-spiritedness is not her primary objective. Ricki’s family deservedly possesses a deep-seated animosity for the woman that chose to abandon responsibility to seek out selfish pursuits. But at a certain point, that has to stop lest righteous anger shift into pure pettiness.

“Ricki and the Flash” is not a film that forces its character to make drastic lifestyle changes to better assimilate into a societally-approved unit.  Cody and Demme choose to relate that the most important thing is just to love when you can, how you can – even when others disapprove.  Ricki must learn this lesson not only in a maternal sense but also in a romantic one as she finally gains the courage to reach finality with the loving advances of her bandmate Greg (Rick Springfield).

This chosen message provides the same joy of a conventional happy ending but packages it in something more real and relatable.  After seeing the passionate rage on display from Streep, Gummer, and McDonald, their reconciliation and compassion feel all the more meaningful.  B2halfstars

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2 responses

8 08 2015
Matthew

I just saw this in theatres today. I was startled by how poorly the movie was shot. It was very dark, the set was not dressed in a way that made the viewer feel comfortable, especially in Pete’s kitchen where low-hanging light fixtures blocked the screen.

Meryl’s accent was as frustrating and affected as Helen Mirren in “Woman in Gold.” It felt so forced an insincere. It was perhaps the first time I hated the sound of her voice.

And I wanted to just once – only once – see her without those dumb braids. The eye make up was too much as well.

There was far too much wrong with the movie to make up for whatever positives lurked in the dark corners.

8 08 2015
Marshall

Sorry you didn’t enjoy it. Sounds like we definitely saw the same issues, but I just allowed myself to push through some of the messiness and find the beating heart beneath.

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