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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