Friday, November 20, 2015

Ricki And The Flash [film review]

Released theatrically on August 7th; available November 24th on Blu-ray and DVD

On the surface, Ricki And The Flash contains enough enticing ingredients for an entertaining film: a screenplay by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult), two always-reliable actors in Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep (who last teamed up in 1982's Sophie's Choice), and the high-concept premise of Streep playing a leather-clad 60-something failed musician who can't give up on her rock and roll dream. Consider me hooked, even with the inconsistent Jonathan Demme directing.

That enthusiasm is swiftly dampened in the film's opening scene as Ricki, Streep's character, butchers Tom Petty's "American Girl" with her group The Flash, who are the house band playing to sparse crowds at a Los Angeles-area bar. The Flash are played by rock veterans Rick Springfield, Neil Young collaborator Rick Rosas on bass (who died last November), P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and session drummer Joe Vitale. Their repertoire consists of classic rock covers and modern top 40 hits, none of which makes for very good listening. One might argue that the songs aren't supposed to sound great since they're being performed by a collection of never-made-it musicians (who apparently don't know any better that "The Flash" is an absolutely terrible band name), but there's a distinctly off-putting cheesiness to the band's live performances that feels unintentional and most of the blame has to be laid at Streep's feet, unfortunately. While you have to admire the commitment to her abrasive character (including wearing clothes and a hairstyle about three or four decades past the point of appropriateness, plus the willingness to show the world her inner rock star and, say, risk embarrassment at singing "Bad Romance" lyrics like "Rah rah, ah-ah-ah/Ro mah, ro-mah-mah/Ga-ga, ooh-la-la"), she's unable to convincingly pull off her supposed "rock lifer" credentials. The actress learned to play guitar for the movie, but her onscreen playing is frequently inconsistent in terms of believability, her singing voice is well below average (and is really highlighted during an awful original song where she accompanies herself on an acoustic guitar), and Ricki's stage moves and stage patter seem to be the result of having spent no more than a few days at a rock and roll fantasy camp. Additionally, there are awkward references by Streep's character to Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Mick Jagger that feel completely forced and only succeed in further eroding Ricki's rock cred.


The bulk of Ricki And the Flash actually revolves around a crisis that finds Ricki returning home to the family she abandoned to pursue her passion and those portions of the film are hit and miss. Streep and Kline (in a limited role as her ex-husband) share fine chemistry, as do Streep and her onscreen daughter, played by Mamie Gummer (they should…Streep is her real-life mother). There's also a big wedding involved, which allows for a showy scene involving highly dysfunctional family dynamics that harken back to Demme's vastly overrated 2008 film, Rachel Getting Married (which I reviewed here).

Cody's script never veers far from traditional convention, resulting in zero surprises. Demme, who has extensive experience working on music-affiliated projects throughout his career, ends up with a surprisingly tone-deaf film, due largely in part to his star being simply overmatched by her character's requirements.   

Rating: C-

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