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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look: 12.5%
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Pretty Bad75%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 2 user ratings

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Ricki and the Flash
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by alejandroariera

"The healing power of rock 'n' roll for the 1%"
2 stars

“I need you to delight and satisfy the customer,” a young manager at a Whole Foods-like supermarket tells middle-aged bankrupt rock singer Ricki Randazzo (née Linda Brummel) after he overhears her complain to a customer about the paltry salary she earns as a cashier. If only scriptwriter Diablo Cody had followed her own advice. For “Ricki and the Flash,” written by her and directed by Jonathan Demme, never fully satisfies nor delights. It feels like a first draft that was rushed into production. The story is full of nuggets and character details that are never fully developed. The title alone is a dead giveaway about the film’s many failings: you walk in expecting a movie about a rock and roll band and the price its lead singer pays to pursue her dream. And we do get some of that, but in the form of a pedestrian family drama about the one-percenters.

Ricki and the Flash is the name of the cover band that plays nightly at a dive bar in Tarzana, California. The regular crowd is as middle-aged as the performers on stage with the occasional group of young hipsters joining the fun. Ricki (Meryl Streep) abandoned her Indiana family and comfortable upper class living decades ago to pursue her rock ‘n’ roll dreams. And even though there is some tension on- and off-stage with guitarist and current boyfriend Greg (a confident and relaxed Rick Springfield), performing is the one remaining pleasure she has in her relatively humdrum life.

After ignoring her ringing phone for days, she finally picks it up: it’s her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) informing her that their daughter Julie (Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer) is going through a rough patch after her husband dumped her, and could she please fly to Indianapolis to talk and comfort her? Especially because current wife Maureen (Audra MacDonald) had to fly to Seattle to take care of a family emergency of her own. So off penniless Ricki goes to the Midwest in the first available cheap flight out of town (much is made of the fact that Ricki is broke throughout the movie). No sooner does she arrive that Julie, looking like she hasn’t slept for ages, comes lashing out at her mother. Reconciliation between the two is not far away especially after Ricki finds out that Julia tried to commit suicide.

Reconciliation with her two sons, however, won’t be easy. Gay son Adam (Nick Westrate) resents her rather conservative and anachronistic views about the LGBTQ community (something the script doesn’t do much with) and Jack (Sebastian Stan) won’t invite her to his wedding fearing she might embarrass him. The entire family ends up airing their dirty laundry on a night out at a fancy restaurant with the city’s wealthy denizens looking on with a mixture of curiosity and contempt: an economically expedient but dramatically flawed way to develop this family’s dynamics and explore issues of class and wealth.

Unlike Jonathan Demme’s far superior “Rachel Getting Married,” where Anne Hathaway’s recovering drug addict served as the agent provocateur for that film’s family dysfunctions, here Ricki is the uncomfortable outsider trying to fit in when she knows she no longer can. Streep does wonders given the material: she squirms, she laughs nervously, she lashes out, she holds back, all sometimes within one single scene. She plays a woman who has not only been briefly pulled out from her comfort zone but left adrift. Whereas “Rachel Getting Married” presented us with a fully-fledged, real family you could easily identify with, Streep and her fellow cast members have to flesh out poorly defined, almost flat characters. And before we get a chance to engage with these family dynamics, the film sends Ricki packing back to California where she will now get her life back in order.

The film comes alive in the second half and that is thanks to the tight musicianship of Streep and bandmates Springfield, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, drummer Joe Vitale and bassist Rick Rosas (who died after the film wrapped). Streep was coached by the one and only Neil Young and did not allow director Demme into any of the band rehearsals to ensure that the band’s chemistry evolved naturally without it being stage-managed. Even though these musical numbers may not be as tightly and imaginatively shot and edited as Demme’s best concert films (“Stop Making Sense” and “Heart of Gold,” among others), the sheer energy Streep and her bandmates bring to these numbers more than make up for the rather pedestrian plot. Too bad Demme and Cody opted for a sappy “rock ‘n’ roll cures all ills” ending that is as sappy and as manipulative as any Nicholas Sparks-based movie.

“Ricki and the Flash” is not a bad movie. But it could have been so much more. It’s just…too bland, too nice, too passive-aggressive. There are hints here of potential conflict that the film shies away from: Pete’s second wife is African-American yet we are expected to believe that race plays no role in this enclosed, privilege Indiana community; and Ricki’s political views are immediately dispensed with by having her rant onstage against Obama and showing us her American flag tattoo and a shrine she keeps in honor of her brother who died in Vietnam.

There are some wonderful moments that almost make up for the flaws, for example, the scene when Maureen and Ricki sit down for a mother-to-mother talk: no histrionics, just two parents with legitimate beefs locking horns. And the early scenes between Ricki and Julie have a bite as you watch reali life mother and daughter duke it out on the big screen. But in the end, the film’s good intentions make it as ephemeral and forgettable as a standards fare CGI-ridden blockbuster.

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originally posted: 08/08/15 04:03:09
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User Comments

8/14/15 Bob Dog Sadly, this movie is the epitome of averageness. 3 stars
8/10/15 Roy Meryl Streep rocking out is a pleasant surprise 4 stars
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  07-Aug-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Nov-2015

  04-Sep-2015 (12A)

  DVD: 24-Nov-2015

Directed by
  Jonathan Demme

Written by
  Diablo Cody

  Meryl Streep
  Rick Springfield
  Kevin Kline
  Hailey Gates
  Bill Irwin

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