Ricki and the Flash is a vanity project with a few decent pieces

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

I wonder about some movies and how much they get influenced by the desires of the actors involved. When you get certain levels of cachet, it’s easy for them to ask for certain changes, for good or ill. But that’s not necessarily the point. You can have a valid artistic concept, the contrast between family and achievement, and whether or not you have to sacrifice one for the other. The pain left behind when the two needs and desires collide, that’s an interesting idea. But whether or not you actually have something interesting to say, that’s another matter.

Ricki and the Flash comes from director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) and stars Meryl Streep as Ricki Rendazzo. Ricki is the lead singer of a cover band called “Ricki and the Flash” in the Los Angeles area, where she moved to pursue her singing dreams. Real life singer Rick Springfield plays her sort of boyfriend Greg, although Ricki doesn’t like labels. She ekes out a meager salary as a cashier at a local market, but the dream is still alive. Whether or not it’s worthwhile is a different matter.

But there’s another side to it. A call from her ex-husband Pete (Keven Kline) asking her to come back to Indianapolis because their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s actual daughter) is getting divorced and is in bad shape. Ricki naturally heads back, where we discover she wasn’t the best mother. She changed her name from Linda and left the kids behind, all to become a famous singer, which she never became. Her daughter and two sons were raised instead by the stepmother, with Ricki/Linda only coming by for a few holidays. So Ricki wants to reconnect with her daughter, who isn’t happy about her divorce or her mother suddenly trying.

I often like to say that some characters are bad people because of their actions, not who they are inside. In this case, Ricki is selfish, not that smart, and kind of arrogant. But she still loves her family and wants to help them. So we get scenes of Ricki and Julie interacting, trying to push towards something healthier, all the while there’s the constant worry Ricki will screw everything up again. Since she’s bad but wants to be better, that’s why you might root for Ricki to succeed. That and she’s played by Meryl Streep trying to give the character more depth. Personally, I was left mostly cold by her. Why though, that’s an interesting question.

This movie wasn’t specifically written for Meryl Streep, but when she took the role, it was an opportunity for her to also work her with daughter. I can’t blame her for that, because there’s good material there to mine for interesting dynamics. I think Kevin Kline was fantastic but under-utilized, and Mamie Gummer was pretty good too. Even Rick Springfield was pretty good, and the guy can definitely still sing. But shockingly enough, I had some issues with Meryl Streep’s performance. It was jarring. There was an overwhelming amount of singing in the movie, and most was either thematically over the top or thematically confusing. This isn’t a musical, so it seemed almost like either Meryl Streep just wanted to sing or they ran out of dialogue.

Not to say she’s bad, but I found the characterization a bit muddled. There’s barely any subtlety there, with only a few hints scattered about. It makes it hard to care about Ricki and her problems. I compare this to Diablo Cody’s last movie Young Adult, where Charlize Theron played a truly bad person but she was so engaging and interestingly complex, you followed along despite yourself. Not so much the case here. The story is not particularly interesting, but that’s fine for this sort of smaller movie. Just a few days in the life of some people. So my conclusion is that the movie tried, and it was only a bit too long. But ultimately I found it a bit toothless, a sort of mindless pleasure. I think it’s a movie to watch on Netflix eventually, but no need to rush to see it.

‘Ricki and the Flash’ tickets are available now. Purchase your tickets now on Fandango to reserve a seat. Don’t get sold out!

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