RICKI AND THE FLASH | REVIEW

Meryl Streep is back for her millionth role, the woman is a prolific goddess of amazement and is capable of doing anything, in RICKI AND THE FLASH she plays an ageing rockstar, always up for a challenge, she sings and learns to play guitar so everything can be authentic. There is a reason she wins so many awards and is loved by everyone. She also stars with her own real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer for the third time and one of mine and many’s favourites, Kevin Kline. Odd little fact; the first time Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline acted together was in SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982), Streep won her second Oscar for that performance and was pregnant at the time with Mamie, in this one they both play her parents. LOVE THAT. RICKI AND THE FLASH is out this week from Sony Pictures Australia, it is rated PG and runs for 101mins. Enjoy Kernel Andrew’s fine review……all the best…..JK.

 

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RICKI AND THE FLASH | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | MOVIE POSTER IMAGE

 

BY ANDREW BRUSENTSEV

I was intrigued by this movie as soon as I heard about it on the rumour mill. Jonathan Demme (director) is no stranger both to screen excellence: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, PHILADELPHIA and also live music movies: Neil Young’s HEART OF GOLD and the genius that is Talking Heads’ STOP MAKING SENSE. Add to those the formidable powers of the legendary Meryl Streep and superb Kevin Kline.

What most caught my attention as an armchair muso was the fact that the band involved would actually be playing live during the shooting of the movie. And a fairly solid band it is. Late Neil Young collaborator Rick Rosas on bass, Parliament-Funkadelic’s pioneer and funk god Bernie Worrell on keyboards and Rick Springfield on lead guitar, not to mention Joe Vitale who has a whole host of great composition and drum work behind him.

Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo (whose real name is Linda Brummell), a woman in her 60’s who never made it as a rock star. She devotes her days working a job she loathes at a Whole Foods, and singer for Ricki and the Flash singing with the local house band in a Tarzana bar at night.

 

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RICKI AND THE FLASH | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | RICKI (MERYL STREEP)

 

Ricki is in trouble, she is down on her luck, she has an off and on again relationship with her guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield); and we quickly learn it’s been many years since she has spoken to her children now three grown adults who don’t want much to do with her. She left them decades ago with her ex-husband Pete (Kline) to chase stardom in L.A.. A stardom that never came.

One day, Ricki receives a phone call from her husband. Pete informs her that their daughter Julie (played by Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer), is on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown. Her husband has left her for another woman and he is at wit’s end as to what to do. Without much to her name Ricki drops what she is doing and jets off to Indiana. A place we can tell that she loathes and doesn’t much want to return to. Arriving without much fanfare she announces to a reluctant Pete that she will be staying with them. You see she has no money (she also gets him to pay for the cab). Pete agrees after all his new wife new wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) is away.

Without getting further into the plot her daughter Julie reacts to her mother’s reappearance after so many years with a mixture of outright hostility and also a strange sense of humour. Some of the film’s best exchanges are between these too and I would say Gummer is the star of the whole piece. But much of this interesting territory for dynamic dialogue and drama I felt was overlooked far too quickly. Ricki does her best to deal with the pent up feelings of her children as well as her own obvious guilt. We meet Ricki’s youngest son, Adam (Nick Westrate), the most hostile of the children. He openly mocks his mother’s open discomfort with his sexuality at every opportunity and doesn’t really feel he needs his mother in his life. Her older son Josh (Sebastian Stan) tries to be diplomatic while secretly hoping to avoid inviting her to his upcoming wedding. Something his sister conveniently points out at one of the movie’s stand-out scenes at a dinner in a local restaurant.

 

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RICKI AND THE FLASH | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | RICKI (MERYL STREEP) AND REAL LIFE DAUGHTER MAMIE GUMMER AS JULIE

 

Unfortunately most of these scenes quickly descend into triteness and cliché. Although much of the proceedings are peppered with excellent banter between the cast these are equally both hit and miss drama and tension wise. We move from comedic to tragic too quickly and the movie lurches from pillar to post around both of these extremes several times.

Pete also begins to rekindle some lost feelings for his ex; Julie also begins to warm to her mother being back in their “family”. It is far to quick and a bit convenient. The arrival of Pete’s wife abruptly breaks this spell. Instead of providing an impetus to move the movie along it saps it of more narrative momentum. After a dispute with recently arrived Maureen Ricki heads back to California.

Unfortunately this is where the movie really begins to lose its way. We focus then on Ricki and Greg’s romance where the movie really begins to meander around this bizarre change in pacing. We also focus on several unneeded songs with the band. Although for me the live band moments were the best thing in this movie there is no saving grace in that. Instead of narrative tightness we are now truly all over the map.

 

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RICKI AND THE FLASH | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | RICKI (MERYL STREEP) AND GREG (RICK SPRINGFIELD ROCKING OUT

 

The movie culminates at Josh’s wedding which Ricki has been invited to and attends with Greg. This provides one more time for the band to show its colours. It is cliché and actually quite painful that this movie ends in what essentially is a Southern Rock Bollywood dance number.

As much as I loathe saying it as a worshipper of Streep’s incredible acting chops she brings too much actor to the musician’s role. She apparently learned to play guitar for this part and you can tell that it really is her playing, but there is no real believability behind her Lita Fordesque stage performance. She is too slick to be a washed up rock star.

Demme directs well enough and you can tell the man has instinct for the live performance. This for me is the best part of the movie, although the band actually distracts from the narrative rather than enhances it. The best camera work and angles are saved for the live performances and that is a shame.

 

2 and a Half Pops

 

 

When asked what is good in life? Kernel Andrew will tell you film, music and beer is all you need. Equal parts Star Wars fanboy, sci-fi nerd, horror head, comic book tragic and Playstation fanatic. You can find him ranting on these things and others on his twitter feed @abrusentsev