Director: Jonathan Demme
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt, Keala Settle.
Eight years ago a small movie with a relatively unknown cast burst onto the scene and made a huge splash in Hollywood garnering critical praise, lots of awards and nominations, a decent profit, and starting a trend nearly single-handedly for indie movies with over the top hipsterdom and rat-a-tat dialogue. That movie was Juno, and nobody profited as much from the film’s success than its first time writer Diablo Cody. The unlikely story of a stripper who ended up winning an Oscar on her first screenplay was the stuff of movies, and immediately she became a household name. The years since Juno have had some highs and lows for Cody: Paradise was a bomb, Jennifer’s Body made an ok profit but was savaged by critics, Young Adult was well received and doubled its budget (good, but pales in comparison to Juno‘s profit being 33 times its budget). Probably her best outing was the Showtime television series United States of Tara, which although not overly successful in its viewership, it was an excellent show. Cody’s latest film, Ricki and the Flash, falls closest to Jennifer’s Body as far as outcome goes: a film that turned a profit but in a couple of years nobody will likely remember it because it wasn’t very good.
Meryl Streep plays the titular Ricki, a woman well into her sixties who is still holding onto that dream of becoming a rock star. She and her band, the Flash, are the house-band of a grimy California bar and together they perform cover songs of classic rock staples (Tom Petty, U2) along with some newer fare (Lady Gaga, P!nk). Ricki’s bandmate, lead guitarist, and paramour is Greg, played appropriately by 80s rocker Rick Springfield, whose hit Jessie’s Girl is probably being sung by a cover band somewhere right now. Weirdly and for seemingly no apparent reason, Ricki is a full blown Fox-News conservative when on stage and proclaims her love for Bush and hatred for Obama. None of this adds to her character development and aside from appearing in the first few minutes of the film it never really comes to light again for the remainder of the movie, so what was the point?
Ricki gets a phone call one night from Indianapolis and she is asked by her wealthy and uptight ex-husband Pete (played by a subdued Kevin Kline) to come visit because her daughter needs her. Ricki agrees to the visit and gets on a plane for the midwest. If the protagonist looked like an anachronism in California with her heavy black makeup, her leather clothing, fringe jackets and side braids, in Indiana, especially in the beautifully plastic McMansions the film takes place in, she appears as an alien from another planet. Meryl Streep does her best to inhabit Ricki comfortably, being rough, uncouth, and aggressive – it just never really rings true. Ricki’s daughter is played by Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer. Although clearly nepotism is at work, Gummer has proven in recent years that she is a capable actress. Each time she pops up on The Good Wife is welcome, and her turn as a mentally ill woman in last year’s fantastic film The Homesman prove she has some chops. In this film she plays a recently abandoned and divorced woman whose depression has destroyed her. Ricki and Pete’s other two sons I suppose are meant to accentuate the differences between Ricki and the family she left behind: one is about to be married in the most over the top liberal wedding possible and the other is gay.
I guess the moral of this film is that family is important and love is love, no matter circumstances or personal decisions or however different people are/become. The message feels a little trite and the movie is clunky. It progresses slowly, unevenly, and none of the performances ring true (possibly except for Audra McDonald, as Pete’s second wife Maureen, who does a good job at navigating a complicated role). The film is forgettable and largely unnecessary. Streep could possibly steal a nomination at the Golden Globes for her role, but it would be solely because it is her playing this part, and not because the film deserves any special praise or notice.