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.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 19, 2011)

19 08 2011

Anne Hathaway can do so much better than the romantic rut she’s leading herself into. The actress seems to have an incredibly fiery, passionate base of detractors, something that I really don’t understand. Clearly they haven’t seen “Rachel Getting Married,” Jonathan Demme’s 2008 film that is my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Hathaway, in a stunning performance that deserved the Oscar nomination it received, plays not the title character but rather her sister, Kym, who is on furloughs for the weekend from rehab. She’s unlikable with a prickly exterior, something portrayed with gusto by the normally charming actress. Yet underneath her thick-skin lies a vulnerable and hurting person, still reeling from tragedy earlier in her life. Caught at a crossroads between moving on and accepting responsibility, she stands uncertainly and without confidence to face a world colored by the consequences of her actions.

Hathaway brings such a vibrant and visible contrast of these two sides of Kym to the screen, fully realizing her from her flaws to her fears to her love to her guilt. It’s one of those miraculous performances by an actress that carries such tremendous emotional nuance that it continues to reward those who dare to take the gut-wrenching roller-coaster ride with the movie again.

What makes “Rachel Getting Married” even better is that every aspect of the film is on par with Hathaway’s towering performance.  Jonathan Demme’s direction is impeccable, capturing the intensity of every moment with a fly-on-the-wall sensibility.  The tension and the mood is right in every moment, although I will give my one caveat in this glowing review: fast forward through the wedding reception dancing.  It’s a bloated sequence that offers a lot of excess with a few cutaway shots to Kym.  Surely it couldn’t have been that way in the brilliant script by Jenny Lumet, director Sydney’s daughter, which paints a portrait of a family torn asunder by a disaster yet forced to put aside the past and come together for a wedding.

The bride, Rachel, is burdened on what should be the happiest weekend of her life by her sister Kym’s re-entry into society, something that comes with many bumps.  With the skilled Rosemarie DeWitt behind the wheel, Rachel weathers these events with increasing emotional fervor until she reaches a breaking point.  It’s a tour de force to rival Hathaway’s work, snubbed of a deserving Oscar nomination – and maybe even a win.  She’s pitch perfect throughout as she tries to maintain her happiness and sanity in the presence of the self-proclaimed “God of Death.”

The sisters are also estranged from their mother Abby, played by Debra Winger, whose performance epitomizes art imitating life as the actress herself has been practically estranged from serious cinema for over a decade.  Her emotional distance echoes her reaction to the divisive family tragedy as she has tried to totally move on and forget the whole thing.  Winger’s quiet character is very mysterious and, like Hathaway’s Kym, holds much to be discovered in her work the second time around.  While Abby may not be easily embraceable, neither is the movie.  But the difference between the two is that “Rachel Getting Married” as a whole is truly endearing, a powerful portrait of the power of love and family through countless issues.