RICKI AND THE FLASH
DIRECTED BY Jonathan Demme
STARS Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline
Meryl Streep sprints past the ABBA songbook to tackle a wide range of infectious tunes in Ricki and the Flash, a middling seriocomedy that works better when its emotions are raw than when its scenarios are rigged.
Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo, who abandoned her prim and proper family long ago to pursue her rock ‘n’ roll dream. Singing a mix of covers (Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” for starters) at a California watering hole with her band the Flash (members played by real-life rockers Rick Springfield, Bernie Worrell, Joe Vitale and the late Rick Rosas), she’s beckoned back to Indianapolis by her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), who’s worried about their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter).
Having been abandoned by her husband for another woman, Julie’s a suicidal wreck, and while Mom has never really been around much to provide maternal comfort, she’s hoping it’s not too late. But Julie is wary, as are her brothers Josh (Sebastian Stan) and Adam (Nick Westrate). And adding to the tension is the presence of Pete’s second wife Maureen (Audra McDonald), who’s spent years raising these kids as her own and isn’t sure Ricki’s presence can offer anything but trouble.
Featuring a script by Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno) and direction by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), Ricki and the Flash mines the various confrontations in a manner that causes a level of discomfort among both the characters and the audience members. These standoffs bring out the best in Streep, who hadn’t delivered an interesting performance since 2009’s Julie & Julia, and represent many of the most memorable sequences in the film.
But the script too often works overtime to provide uplifting, cathartic moments that feel artificial rather than earned, and all conflicts are eventually ignored instead of being resolved. Much is made of the fact that Ricki is a right-wing nitwit (we learn that she voted for George W. Bush twice because “I support the troops!”) while other family members hit all the stereotypical liberal checkpoints (this one’s gay, this one’s a vegan, and so on), but the film refuses to dig any further. At least one family member seems to genuinely hate her, but that, too, gets swept under the rug.
Like Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, Ricki and the Flash also ends at a wedding. Yet unlike that 2008 sleeper about an equally dysfunctional family, any goodwill here feels more like the screenwriter’s forced hand than the characters’ hard-earned victories.