Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Ricki and the Flash

It seems like once a year, in August, my mom and I pick a movie to go and see. It usually is because there is at least one late summer blockbuster each year which appeals to both of us. This year's selection was the latest Meryl Streep flick Ricki and the Flash. I had high hopes for the film. It's trailer left much to be desired, but with that cast, Jonathan Demme at its helm, and Diablo Cody behind the script, I had hope that Ricki and the Flash would rise above its conventional look and reach something deeper. I was both pleasantly surprised, and a terribly disappointed in the overall product.

Ricki and the Flash is the story of an aging rocker (Meryl Streep), whose once big dreams of fame dwindle in a dive bar every night with her also aging band. She is a checkout girl at what is basically Whole Foods in a yuppie part of Los Angeles, and is struggling to pay the bills. She is sort of dating her lead guitarist (Rick Springfield), but other than that there is little human connection in her life. That is because Ricki, also known as Linda, left her husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and three children Julie (Mamie Gummer), Josh (Sebastian Stan), and Adam (Nick Westrate) behind to follow her dreams. Pete has since remarried to Maureen (Audra McDonald), and her family has slowly migrated away from her. Out of the blue, Pete calls Ricki to tell her that Julie's husband has left her, and that it is time for her to step up to the plate, especially as Maureen has been rushed away to her own family emergency. So Ricki travels back in time to find her ex-husband is incredibly successful and wealthy, her kids are managing just fine without her, and are personally resentful of their mother, and that Julie has actually attempted suicide in the aftermath of her failed marriage. There begins a journey of reconnecting, of family, of missed opportunities, and of the second, and sometimes third chances life gives you to try to make it all work.

Ricki and the Flash, to me, presented itself as an almost Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It has a lot of issues. First and foremost, it is slow. There are great moments (I'll get to that in a minute), but there are far too many that drag, and if you saw the trailer and were hoping for a great mother/daughter flick, that lasts about 20 minutes, and then we move on. In fact, despite incredible performances, the whole story of Julie seems cut short. After all this build up, there is only one scene at the end that even hints at what has come before. Mamie Gummer has earned the right to act opposite her mother, and she nails it. It's just a shame her story, the second most interesting of the bunch, seems to falter. In fact, I think that is the real problem with the film, that other than Ricki's story, every other character's piece seems to be lacking in whole. Sebastian Stan, Kevin Kline and Audra McDonald each make their role count, but all three are criminally underused (seriously, a musical film and a six-time Tony winner with the voice of an angel doesn't sing the entire film?!). And finally, overall, the films sees to lack cohesiveness, and despite some great moments, there is neither enough of Cody's wit, nor enough of Demme's visionary take on film.

But then again, I liked it. For every moment that didn't work, there were plenty that did. I loved Gummer's rage. I loved the musical moments. Demme has trekked down this road before, and it shows, as they are the film's most entertaining, and most sincere scenes. Streep's vocals are rough and yet perfect for her character. I loved the scene where Maureen finally gets to give it to Ricki. Ricki is our hero, make no mistake, but she is deeply flawed character. A scene that could have come off as shrill and bitchy, was played from a place of authentic, and deserved anger and frustration. Let's face it, as much as we love Streep, McDonald can really hold her own. Yet, Ricki's point about how women who follow their dreams are bad mothers that abandon their families, and men who do the same the thing are forgiven, because society deems dads as not as pertinent, is spot on. Abandonment no matter which parent you are is a problem. I'm glad that Cody and Demme make that point, because it is one that is often overlooked. And I genuinely love the authentic moments of pain and heartbreak. This is a comedy, but it is one that knows that most of life's humor comes from a dark place.

And then there is Meryl Streep. With ticket prices the way that they are, most of us have to pick and choose where we spend our hard-earned time and money. And if you are wondering if this is the right film for you, I pose the question: do you love Meryl Streep? Unless you are a communist, or an idiot, that answer should be yes. She is America's greatest living acress today, and no matter what the total product of the film is, she is always worth watching. Ricki is yet another one of her singular creations. She lights up the screen, is funny, is magnetic, and creates for us a complicated anti-hero that is both lovable and despicable. And even when the film does drag, she is the light that pulls it through. She probably won't get another Oscar nod for this role, although I wouldn't bet against her at this point (and a Golden Globe nod is a sure thing), but like always, she deserves to be at least a part of the conversation. She is that good.

Ricki and the Flash had the potential to be a great film. Instead, probably due to studio pressures, we get a film that rides on the backs of its performances, and that, despite many scenes that fall flat and its lack of cohesiveness, manages to find true moments of authenticity. If you are someone who, like me, is tired of summer, and is ready for a film that doesn't have robots, dinosaurs, or is the fifth in a 10-part film series, then check out Ricki and the Flash. Despite its issues, it is worth a view, and more importantly, a listen.

Grade: B-

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