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Movie Review of the Week: “Ricki and the Flash”

Movie Review of the Week: “Ricki and the Flash”
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As unoriginal and worn as the black leather jacket Ricki Rendazzo wears to prove her rockstar mettle, this mixed bag of a movie from veteran director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”) is full of clichés. And despite its rocking soundtrack and amazing vocals from Meryl Streep as Ricki, it’s tone deaf when it comes to character development and story.

Demme has made some great music documentaries/concert films, including “Stop Making Sense” and “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” and whenever Streep takes the stage with her all-star band The Flash (Rick Springfield on guitar, Rick Rosas on bass and Bernie Worrell on keyboards), the film soars. Streep belts out the classic rock numbers and plays her guitar with admirable authenticity (she learnt to play for this movie and has sung onscreen many times) but somehow Ricki, a sixty-something wannabe rocker never seems anything but a hackneyed idea of what that looks like in the eyes of a movie costume designer. With her Joan Jett black leather get-up, loops of hippy jewelry and frazzled hair, Ricki is a walking cliché of an 80s band member.

Then again, perhaps that’s what Demme was going for, in that Ricki is in some ways still living in the 80s. Having abandoned her husband and three young children way back, she struck out for fame and fortune in Los Angeles, where she still lives, fronting the house band at a beer bar and working days as a checkout teller. When her ex-husband Pete, a buttoned-up preppie played by Kevin Kline, summons her back home, she returns to the mid-west suburbs to reacquaint herself with the grownup children she has never known.

Having established Ricki’s life in L.A., Diablo Cody’s script (“Juno”) starts to flounder when the fractured family is together again, struggling to get along despite a lifetime of resentment. Ricki (her non-stage name is the more pedestrian Linda Brummell) doesn’t seem to have much regret, even when faced with her suicidal daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s own offspring) who has been ditched by her no-good hubbie.

It’s tough to know what to make of Ricki, and at the risk of angering Meryl-fans everywhere, I will dare to say that her performance is uncharacteristically uneven and ill-formed. Partly to blame is director Demme who struggles with the tone of this musical dramedy throughout.  Ricki seems altogether too rough around the edges to have ever been with Pete and we are never convinced of her reasons for abandoning her children. There is an “Oscar clip” speech towards the end of the film where Ricki pontificates about the judgment (unfairly) leveled towards female artists who want to go on the road. No one judges Mick Jagger apparently for following his dream, despite 7 children from 4 different women. True or not, the scene stops the film dead in its tracks and feels like blatant moralizing.  Another heavy scene with Springfield, whose character is in love with Ricki (although it’s hard to see why) flops due to his soap-opera line delivery. He just doesn’t have the chops to go at it with Meryl.

“Ricki and The Flash” even starts to drag which is a travesty with Meryl on screen giving it her all. The family drama is a bore, Demme’s direction is heavy-handed to say the least and none of the characters seems in any way real. My recommendation? Wait for the dvd and fast forward to the parts where Meryl sings. Only then does this movie show sparks of life.


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