Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep), aka the artist formerly known as Linda Brummel, once chased her dreams of becoming a famous rock star, abandoning her husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and their three children in doing so. Unfortunately, her dreams never came to fruition and now she’s fronting a house band with her lead guitarist/sorta romantic interest Greg (Rick Springfield) at a Tarzana bar, while paying the bills as a cashier for a Total Foods grocery store.
Opportunity comes knocking, though, or I should say ringing, when her ex-husband calls her to let her know that their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) is in the midst of a life crisis following the sudden breakup of her marriage. And there a second chance for a new beginning with the children she left all those years ago lies waiting for her.
Ricki and the Flash comes to us courtesy of Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody (Juno) and Oscar winners Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) and Meryl Streep (pretty much everything she’s starred in it seems). There’s a bevy of talent involved here, yet this is the sorta predictably cutesy film that in no way reaches the level of what those behind it are capable of doing, ending up as nothing more than a fluff piece by a cast and crew who have contributed their services to superior projects in the past.
In a way, Ricki and the Flash is sorta like Demme revisiting his 2008 film Rachel Getting Married, but in a PG-13 feel-good kinda way. A family member comes back still carrying baggage from her past, relatives are facing personal crises, a wedding happens and everything’s fine and dandy at the end. It’s throwaway cornball material, and yet Demme and Cody still manage to make it work somewhat as a passable diversion. If you’ve seen Cody’s best work, Juno and Young Adult (which means the only reference to Jennifer’s Body you’ll be getting here is, ironically, me telling you that I won’t be referencing it), you know that she has a tremendous knack for either avoiding cliches or toying with them, and to her credit, she doesn’t pile on the heart-tugging melodrama. A lesser screenwriter handling the subject of absentee parents probably would’ve had us choking to death on the sentimental overkill.
However, Cody’s script still suffers from a tad too much Hollywood artificiality to even come close to matching her two previously mentioned films, and like Demme going from Rachel Getting Married (which tackled some serious fractured family issues in a not-so cutesy manner) to this, she also tones down the character depth and biting dialogue she typically is known for in favor of conventional storytelling. That’s a shame considering the thematic territory it explores only to shy away from it. Sure, this is a film about new beginnings instead of righted wrongs which thankfully means we’re spared the third-act “whole new person” montage, but we also get the big wedding speech and musical number, which altogether makes up a final 10-15 minutes that defines eye-rolling, warm and fuzzy cliche.
‘Cause at the end of the day, singing a Bruce Springsteen song to the wedding crowd solves everything.
Also, it won’t be long after you meet Kevin Kline’s uptight Pete that you’ll see the obligatory “lighten up with some pot” moment coming.
It’s not that the film is bad; it isn’t. It’s just decent, which is fine if this was written, directed and performed by those less talented than who we get. Considering who’s involved, yeah, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Still, this is a talented cast delivering good performances, particularly Rick Springfield and Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer. Not that it’s a guaranteed success when family members partner up in front of the camera (Will and Jaden, I’m talking to you), but if this film has any strength, it’s the natural chemistry Streep has between Gummer and Springfield.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize it’s not an easy feat for those two to hold their own so well up against Streep.
As for Meryl Streep, she’s good here, but it’s a performance that shouldn’t earn her the usual Oscar nod come next year, which by now has become so predictable there’s a reason people joke about her getting nominated even if she hasn’t starred in anything during the year. And you know what, voters, she doesn’t have to be (Are you all really that desperate for her to break Katharine Hepburn’s record?). This if far from classic Streep, but she’s having fun with this role and it’s not like she’s mailing it in, which she could’ve easily done.
If you’re expecting career-defining work from those involved here, you may wanna look elsewhere. Ricki and the Flash is much more conventional and predictable than what we’ve gotten from director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, but despite the overall contrived feel, schmaltzy ending and not enough dramatic heft as the story should’ve given us, the film manages to get by on the solid work from the strong cast and just enough punch from Cody’s screenplay. It’s familiar ground, but as I’ve said before, so is comfort food.
I give Ricki and the Flash a C+ (★★½).