Movie Review - Ricki and the Flash

Sometimes, it's necessary to ask why this movie. Why did the people involved make this movie? Ostensibly, this film is about a mom who chose to pursue her music career and in many ways abandon her children with everything resolving at a wedding.

For director Jonathan Demme, his last feature with actors was Rachel Getting Married (2008), which was about a wedding. He then spent the interim directing TV shows and documentaries, a lot relating to music, including a movie on Neil Young.

For actress and star Meryl Streep, she's spent the last few years flexing her musical and especially her singing abilities. She did Mamma Mia (2008) and Into the Woods (2014). Here, she gets to play a rock star and the movie feels at times like a Meryl Streep concert.

For a lot of the other actors, they get to work with Streep and play pretty interesting characters, so for pretty much everyone the question of why has a pretty obvious answer. The only person where that doesn't apply is the screenwriter Diablo Cody.

Cody made her mark writing the screenplay for Juno (2007), which won her the Academy Award. Her other screenplays and even her TV series, The United States of Tara, had such wit and bite to them. There's echoes of that bite in this film, but, otherwise, it's all incredibly tame.

Cody does make a great point about sexism when it comes to parenthood vis-à-vis the music industry. There are plenty of male rock stars who are parents. I'm sure there are some who get criticized, but, as stated here, the criticism toward female rock stars seems worse and unfairly so, especially since not enough is given to show or make us feel the absence or distance, which is the top criticism for rock stars as parents.

Streep stars as Linda Brummel aka Ricki Rendazzo, the leader of an aging rock band that mainly performs at a bar in Tarzana, California. To support herself, she works at a grocery store. Meanwhile, her family, including her ex-husband and three children, live in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Her three children are all adults, all three considering marriage and starting their own families. Clearly, there is history and tension, but it never seems bad enough that the drama would be worthy of a narrative at all.

Mamie Gummer (The Good Wife and Emily Owens, M.D.) co-stars as Ricki's eldest child, Julie. Gummer is actually Streep's real-life, eldest daughter. The film tries to build drama between them, but continually undermines it. The relationship between Julie and Ricki is ultimately fine. Even though it's awkward at first, it's ultimately fine even fairly early, so the wind is taken out the sails.

Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The First Avenger and The Architect) plays Josh, the second eldest child, possibly. His relationship with Ricki is probably the least strained. There is a distance between them where they don't talk regularly or even at all for possibly years, but there's no explanation as to why. Most grown men rarely call their mothers, but if he were getting married and neglected to tell her, there should be a demonstrable reason, and this film doesn't provide one.

Nick Westrate (Mildred Pierce and Hatfields & McCoys) plays Adam, the youngest child whose relationship with Ricki is most likely the worse. It's established early that Ricki is a Republican and has right-wing views. This clashes a bit with Adam who is liberal and gay. It made for an awkward dinner, but that's it. Cody does nothing more with it, besides another brief and awkward moment later, but as a result any bite that her political views could have had is removed.

Kevin Kline plays Pete, the ex-husband. Audra McDonald plays Maureen, his new wife and stepmother. Rick Springfield plays Greg, the guitarist and boyfriend to Ricki. All three of these older, adult actors are great. Each are given fantastic scenes to shine, and they absolutely do. A new, young actor named Aaron Moten who plays Troy, the boss at Ricki's grocery store, is also fantastic in his brief time on screen.

All the acting performances are not the problem. The script and the direction aren't really the problem either. It just feels like Cody and Demme are doing an all-adult version of Glee but lacking the punch that is signature to Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, or even the sharpness that is signature to Diablo Cody.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG - 13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 41 mins.


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