Meryl Streep as a past-her-prime 1970’s Rock’N’Roll singer? Oh I had to see this. It is interesting that, out of a year of so much polarization, it is sort of soothing to come up with a movie that was middle of the road. By no means was this the films ambition, the film certainly has ambition a plenty. Sadly though, sometimes things didn’t go quite as planned… That is just how it works sometimes and you have something that just comes across as a little odd, which is exactly what Ricki & The Flash is, a solid amount of ambition mixed in with an odd story, and even odder pacing.
Ricki & The Flash is one of those movies for your mom and dad. It is a movie geared towards the nostalgia of that generation now well in their fifties to sixties. With tracks from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and with a co-starring of Rick Springfield of all people mixed in with the story of upper middle class people dealing with the problems of divorce and the adulthood of their children. For any of you who get pissy from seeing the ‘Only 90’s kids will get this’, if you get misty eyed at this movie, you have no room to judge!
The story of Ricki & The Flash is the story of a woman named Linda or, as she goes by her stage name, Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep). She is an older woman who moved to California in the hopes of becoming a rock star. She did this, however, by leaving her husband and three children in the process to do it. Several years later, Ricki and her band The Flash (who didn’t see that coming) play at a local watering hole. They mainly do covers of older songs like American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as well as some new stuff too and Ricki has a blossoming relationship with the lead guitarist, Greg (Rick Springfield). One day, while working as a cashier at a grocery store, Ricki gets a call from her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline) who tells her that her daughter is getting a divorce after her husband left her for another woman.
Ricki travels back home to Indianapolis where she is faced with the demons of her past. Over the course of the next couple of days, Ricki attempts to help her suicidal daughter come to grips with her husband’s abandonment.
Meryl Streep is an acting god, there is just no other way around it. She is astonishing and has done some truly breathtaking work in her life. It is no doubt that this woman will go down as one of the all time greats. She has that ability to take a bad movie or even a mediocre movie and boost it through her amazing performances. This is the case in Ricki & The Flash
To replace Meryl Streep with another actress in that roll would take this decent movie and easily turn it into a spectacular disaster. Make no mistake about it, Meryl Streep’s performances as Ricki Rendazzo, a middle aged woman, trying, and failing to become a rock star. Who now must reconnect with the family she abandoned all those years ago… is pretty rock solid. Streep is easily 90% of the reason why this movie is still receiving mixed to positive reviews on the internet. Rock hard Meryl Streep, you glorious woman!
It Is Nice to See The Dead Beat Mom For a Change
After seeing a dead beat dad, down on his luck, and trying to win back the favor of his children… It is nice to finally see the tables turned for once. Rarely do you see the situation where it is the mother who decides to take off and follow her dreams at the detriment to their loving spouse and children. Now that isn’t to say that there have been neglectful mothers when it comes to cinema in the past, far from it. But it is very rare to see it take on this sort of shape. It does work and you can certainly sympathize with all of the characters involved. Not to mention, it is always good to see the single dad represented in a positive light as well, plus Kevin Kline makes a really good middle class dad who also smokes pot. All around, excellent job here.
Interestingly Progressive Subplot Sort of Left Hanging
There are some interesting things in this movie that I did not expect. The addition of an African American wife for Kevin Kline combined with the fact one of Ricki’s sons Adam is gay and the fact that Ricki, a true conservative, does not seem to approve of Adam’s ‘lifestyle choice’ as she calls it. This, of course, comes to fruition when, at the wedding, meets Adam’s boyfriend and is very accepting of him.
Now, I want to praise this movie for featuring an interracial couple that is accepted as normal without any questioning and the fact that a conservative person can put aside prejudice for the sake of their son’s happiness… I really do… But there is something about it that just doesn’t feel right.
In truth, it feels like to me that someone took a look at this movie and the cast of characters and said… Wow… This is really white… I mean, REALLY white! We need to mix in some people of other races and sexual preferences to get away from this middle class, heteronormative whiteness we got going on.
While the wife doesn’t feel out-of-place, the ‘son is homosexual’ subplot just feels forced. It seems to be shoo horned into the plot so that an older generation person can be seen coming to terms with someone’s homosexuality or as something that some people may be experiencing today. It doesn’t seem to flow with the movie and feels a little tacked on, for lack of a better term.
It is in the meh category because I can praise this until the cows come home, we need more acceptance and progressive thinking in all forms of media… But when it comes off as kind of forced… Well I do have to at least question if there were any ulterior motives at play.
The Pacing is as Smooth as a Rocky Canyon
Oh boy, the pacing is bad. It is very bad! I haven’t seen pacing this bad in quite some time! The tone of this movie jumps all over the place as it attempts to tell a cohesive story. In the first act you have Ricki, a down on her luck rocker who flies back to her hometown to reconnect with her ex-husband and her daughter who has just gone through a divorce. The next scene takes a sort of somber/hopeful tone as Ricki seems to lavish in the luxury of her ex husband’s place and force her daughter out and about on the town by using her ex husband’s old credit card. It is very quiet throughout these scenes and a lot of signs point to Ricki and Pete getting back together.
Suddenly, Pete’s wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) comes home and sends Ricki packing back to California where shit seems to really pick up for her and her now boyfriend Greg. As the plane lands in California, the movie becomes an almost completely different movie in the tone, the feel, and even the style. One minute we have the somber story of a woman who saw her marriage crumble and the next we have a group of people jamming to 70’s rock with little cares in the world.
While the third act between California and the wedding is a bit better, it still feels like I have jumped the rails again into a new wacky wedding movie.
Movies are supposed to flow very easily from one scene to the next so that you can get lost in the story that is being told to you. You should be captivated by what is on screen! I was never once captivated! The movies tone kept switching on me and the pace kept grinding to a stand still that I never could get fully invested in the movie!
The Suffering of Main Character Confusion
The story of Ricki is certainly an interesting one, made all the more interesting by Meryl Streep. But ultimately, I feel like this was a missed opportunity to tell a much more compelling story about Ricki’s daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer). Julie is a rock solid talent who plays the part of a woman who is going through a very nasty divorce. Her dead pan delivery on many of her lines makes her an absolute gem in this movie. She is such an interesting character, but a lot of her story is lost because we have to tell the story of Ricki Rendazzo.
All of Julie’s problems are a tool for the Ricki character to grow as a person and reconnect with her family. At the end of the movie, Julie does seem a bit better off and she does have a great scene where she is singing on stage with her mom, but she still doesn’t seem over her ex-husband, is still on some serious medication, and a suicide attempt is not something that can just be glossed over.
The character does have development, but I do feel there was a much better story to be told from Julie’s perspective, and to burn it on the story of a washed out rocker is a con in my book.
It Has Very Little Substance
Ultimately, from a movie that is directed by Jonathan Demme and with people like Meryl Streep in the film, I expected a lot more than what I got. While the movie covers many bases and even some touchy subjects, at the end of the day, the movie feels kind of safe. It is a decent movie, with a decent premise, that can be easily enjoyed by anyone in the target demographic or at the very least is something you can sit through once and call it a day.
For a movie that clearly had much more ambition than what it turned out being, this makes it a strong disappointment.
Overall, the movie is okay. It isn’t great, but it is okay. Meryl Streep is rock solid as always, the music is good while it does feel like padding, and the movie does tell a decent, yet very predictable story. Overall the movie lacks in substance, the pacing is terrible, and it left us feeling that the wrong character was the main character.
However, thanks to the parts that it did well, such as the musical sequences, the use of the dead beat mom, and once again Meryl Streep, the movie is saved from being horrendous. This movie is a solid once over rental to watch with your parents, nothing more, nothing less.
Final Score 2.5/5
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