I knew what type of movie this was going to be when I entered the theater. The trailers led me to believe that this would be yet another predictable snooze fest in the same line as Southpaw and The Judge. Now that I’ve watched it, Ricki and the Flash is absolutely the kind of movie that you think it’s going to be and there’s never a big, shocking moment or daring piece of storytelling. However, this movie was still a mildly pleasant surprise for a number of reasons. Ricki and the Flash is helped by a terrific cast and its general good will towards its audience. The movie doesn’t aim to constantly manipulate or bore like Southpaw but rather be a light, funny and ultimately charming experience that even manages to discuss a few worthwhile topics throughout.
Ricki (Meryl Streep) is a near broke rock singer who spends her days working at a grocery store and her nights playing in a band with her boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) in a bar. After she finds out that her daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) was divorced, she flies back home to visit her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) and her 3 children. In this, she rebuilds her relationship with her children and she comes to terms with the things she gave up in the name of pursuing her dream.
I don’t want to set this movie up as more than it is; it has some major issues that keep it from being more than just okay. It’s wasn’t so much that there was anything offensive about it as much as there were a lot of areas that felt numbing. The story about the aging star whose empty inside because they didn’t spend enough time with their family is nothing new, that could even be the brief summary of last year’s best picture winner Birdman. The movie has a lot to jump over to make this seem fresh and while there are a few things that give it a bit of momentum, it doesn’t exactly leap over the barrel but rather land comfortably in the middle of it. The film might not have anything terrible but after a few days you won’t remember much about it asides from that you found it a tad entertaining.
You can basically copy and paste a lot of the complaints I had towards Southpaw to this movie. There are too many scenes in here that have been done before like the fight between the ex-wife and the new wife, the awkward family dinner and the wacky reception where everyone becomes friends again. Unlike Southpaw, the movie manages to do these things competently enough as to where they aren’t boring but still they aren’t inspired enough as to where they demand your full attention. The whole experience lacks full staying power or edge which is shocking when you consider the two people who were brought on to make this. Diablo Cody made the honest, hilarious Young Adult and Jonathan Demme made Silence of the Lambs, one of the most daring films of the 90’s. With the talent that was brought on you can see why this didn’t entirely suck but you can’t see why there finished product together still felt so mediocre.
Clichés and mundane aspects mentioned, I still found this flick to be surprisingly enjoyable. As I mentioned above, this is partially due to the talent on board in terms of the writer, director and cast.
While there are plenty of moments that make the screenplay feel contrived, I was actually impressed with some of the topics Cody tried to bring up. Though at times awkwardly pulled off, it was an interesting touch that despite how crazy and wacky Ricki may seem, she was still this surprisingly conservative person who made snarky comments on Obama and seemed uncomfortable when one of her sons told her that he was gay. A lot of artists decide to center their films around very liberal characters and it’s interesting to see someone attempt to portray a different opinion from the cinematic norm in a fair and humanized way even though I consider myself to be a heavy liberal. It was also creative when this movie brought up the way our culture looks at men and women differently. When the man leaves a family to pursue their career, there a bold hero that must still be respected. When a woman decides to leave, she’s a horrible mother who’s cruel and selfish. People can leave a family for a lot of reasons but to center there self-worth on their gender is blatantly incorrect logic. And though it has been done multiple times before, I liked the relationship between the old mom and the new mom and the mutual respect they were able to find with their differences by the end. I enjoyed that it still managed to talk about some provoking subjects despite a conventional story.
The movie also aims at times for this slice of life quality which keeps it from feeling like too much of a melodrama. The movie never seems to be throwing anything in your face and the way it handles even the more typical story arcs feels natural because of the humor and sincerity with which Cody wrote everything. The best scene in the movie is when Ricki, her ex-husband and her daughter find some weed and listen to some old rock music and hang out. It’s the sort of scene we saw last year in This is Where I Leave You but here it feels much sweeter because of the performances and because it comes from something that is genuine. The real difference between this and Southpaw is that all of this movies clichéd elements like the suicidal daughter or the washed up rock star come from a well-intentioned place as though Diablo Cody really wanted this to mean something. It never beats you over the head with anything and it never feels cheap despite how overused it is. It’s that quality to the script that allowed me to let pass a lot of the things that have annoyed me in recent dramas.
There’s also a lot to be said about the actors who worked on this. Meryl Streep was Meryl Streep. She can give a good performance in anything. A part of me does wish Streep would try to give a great performance in a great movie but regardless this is another really touching part by her and she adds a lot to the character. Kevin Kline is quite good as her ex-husband and Mamie Gummer was impressive as Streep’s odd daughter in what could’ve been a very campy and gimmicky part. The chemistry between Streep and Gummer and the overall mother daughter relationship is one of the finer areas the movie had to offer. Lastly, I have to mention how weirdly fantastic Rick Springfield was here. You wouldn’t expect it from the singer of Jesse’s Girl but Springfield is really sympathetic and heartfelt in the few scenes where he plays Greg. I love the scene where he sort of breaks down in front of Ricki and addresses his own flaws to her.
This movie doesn’t have the brain you want it to have but its heart is in the right place. Everyone seemed to be trying to give everything to give this very predictable story an emotional center. Streep, Springfield and Gummer stand out and Diablo Cody uses the premise to address some issues and build up a warmth that allows for it to at least feel like a short movie going experience. Don’t go in expecting anything new, but still, I am actually giving this one an out of nowhere recommendation.
Release Date: 8/7/2015
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Screenplay by: Diablo Cody