MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Ricki And The Flash’ Trumps Formula With Poignant Chords


Film: Ricki and the Flash
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Jonathan Demme

It was either white picket fences and an idyllic family life or a chance at rock stardom for Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep). That was 20 or so years ago when she chose the latter. Now, she’s crooning out hits like Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” at a dive bar, The Salt Well, with her middle-to-late aged cohorts to a steady crowd of loud drunks looking to escape their day. And escape Ricki did. Or at least she thought she did.

Despite a low-wage supermarket job and a dingy apartment, Ricki goes to The Well a few days a week like she’s the center act at Woodstock. That is until her ex (Kevin Kline) rings the forlorn rocker to tell her that her daughter is going through a rough time after a failed marriage and could use her mother’s coddling.

Things don’t all go perfectly, as per usual. Ricki is looked upon as an absent parent, a person who abandoned her kids for an unrealistic dream. Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real daughter), her daughter, resents her for leaving and throws up an emotional brick wall. Sounds like the predictable kind of fare about an absent parent trying to make things right, right?

Sure, you’d be right in assuming that. Diablo Cody’s script can be misconstrued as a calculated set of situations meant to drudge up tears and “feels” from the audience. Director Jonathan Demme knows the material though, picking the most unpredictable spots to strip each character in the story of their predilections, letting out the messiest of emotions in the most humane way possible: music.

How does someone make up for years of lost time, though? First, Ricki deals in what she thinks will be the fastest route to her daughter’s immediate emotional recovery. Standing up for Julie in front of her ex-beau, smoking weed and comforting her with mellow tunes, taking her for a spa day. Then, Ricki’s plan to be the temporary repairman falls apart. The hole left by her parental negligence couldn’t be filled by a quick trip. Years upon years of regret can’t be fixed overnight. Demme fills that void with onlookers and pedestrians who all have their own stories to ruminate over. This may be Ricki’s movie, but Demme makes sure she’s not always the emotional centerpiece.

Forgiveness is at the center here, all culminating in one big moment of revelatory melodrama. Things are much more palatable when a Springsteen song is used, though. It’s like a whole story’s worth of resonating moments being sweated out over a few chords.

Ricki and the Flash is an emotionally messy movie with tact. It knows exactly what the audience should be feeling at any moment, but picks the right time to throw the emotional haymakers at you. Crying or tearing up is inevitable; you just won’t see it coming. The film overcomes its oft-predictable and formulaic framework by employing some of the best in the business to show off genuine human emotion. Ricki and the Flash doesn’t center on if someone is right or wrong, it doesn’t care about that. It cares about showing these people for who they are, faults and all. And yeah, I cried like someone took my dog away from me.


Review written by: Sam Cohen (Follow him on Twitter!)

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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