“Ricki and the Flash”
1 hour, 41 minutes
Meryl Streep is one of those actresses — no, you don’t need me to tell you about Meryl Streep any more than you need me to explain who Steven Spielberg is. And starting a sentence is “Meryl Streep is one of those actresses” is a fallacy in itself because there are no actresses like Meryl Streep.
After a career spanning four decades, it’s pretty obvious that she is at the top of her game. You never see her phoning it in for a quickie paycheck role. Or maybe you do and we just don’t recognize it because a “phoned in” Streep performance is equal to a career high for most other actors.
The problem with being as good as Meryl Streep is that there is no way that every movie you’re in can possibly measure up. Imdb lists her filmography at over 70 roles, and trust me, they’re not all winners. And for a while, I thought this week’s latest, “Ricki and the Flash,” was going to fall into that column, but about halfway through the film it’s like everyone woke up and said, “Hey — we got Meryl Streep to be in this! Let’s step it up!”
Streep stars as the titular Ricki, Whole Foods checker by day, rocker by night — a woman who, 20-some-odd years ago left her family for a career in the music business and, though she never made it big, is at least living the life she wants. She and her band, The Flash, headline a mid-level bar and have for the past decade and a half, playing mostly covers with an original composition or two thrown in.
Lately, in order to cater to a small younger crowd, the band has had to lower themselves by mixing in Lady Gaga or Pink into their repertoire. Ricki’s dating the guitarist in the band, Greg, played well by Rick Springfield, but she’s conflicted about it. These small indignities aside, Ricki feels she’s got it all figured out. That is, until her ex-husband calls to say Ricki’s grown daughter, going through an ugly divorce, is in trouble.
Hopping on a plane, Ricki steps back into a world she thought she’d left behind and discovers that the past is never in the past.
“Ricki and the Flash” is problematic, but mostly in the first half. Streep, who learned to play guitar for this role, shines in the rock ‘n roll performances, but is pretty unlikeable otherwise. This isn’t a knock on the performance — just about everyone is unlikeable in the first half of the film, and is probably more a criticism of Diablo Cody’s uneven script.
As the ex, Kevin Kline does a fine job, but feels like he’s trying to hard to be quiet and reasonable in the face of Ricki’s chaotic personality. Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter, here playing Ricki’s troubled daughter Julie, does a great job, but doesn’t really rouse the film out of its doldrums. About halfway through, however, when Ricki turns a corner and starts to really live — starts being nice to Greg, starts being reasonable instead of obnoxious — the film picks up. By the end, there are tears of joy in the audience and the movie leaves you feeling better than when you came in.
That’s not to say it’s great or anything, but it does wrap up well.
The music in the film is where “Ricki” really shines. The band The Flash consists of not only Springfield, but also Rick Rosas, former bassist for Neil Young and just about everyone else of his generation, Joe Vitale, the road drummer for the Eagles, and rock ‘n roll hall-of-famer Benny Worrell on the keyboard. Watching them play, fronted by Streep, who naturally puts her all into it, was a joy.
Streep also has a beautiful scene where she sings and plays an original from the film, “Cold One,” that is really very nice. That scene, incidentally, rescues us from one of the biggest cliches going in Hollywood right now, namely the “let’s have old people get high as comedic relief” bit.
“Ricki and the Flash” is not subtle. It’s script is manipulative, heavy-handed, and fairly unsophisticated. The enjoyable second half lays it on thick and some may balk at the way the film is playing at your emotions. But all movies do that, to some extent. That’s the contract we make with movies. “I’ll suspend my disbelief and you make me feel something.”
Some movies do it better than others, but for a movie like “Ricki,” it was welcome. I can’t say I loved the film, but I liked it in the end, and at the very least it gives me another reason to be amazing by the incomparable Meryl Streep.
“Ricki and the Flash” is rated PG-13 for language and drug use.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.