D: Jonathan Demme. DP: Declan Quinn. W: Diablo Cody. Starring: Meryl Streep/Kevin Kline/Mamie Gummer/Audra McDonald/Rick Springfield/Sebastian Stan/Nick Westrate/Hailey Gates/Ben Platt.
Steve Nicks has routinely denied any chatter about an impending musical biopic on her illustrious solo career and time with the band Fleetwood Mac. Ricki and the Flash immediately conjures her image to mind, but explores the failed star narrative over the successful one. A mixed bag of sorts, Ricki and the Flash ultimately proves Meryl Streep is fabulous to watch in just about everything. But didn’t we already know that?
The film finds Ricki (Streep), formerly named Linda, playing weekly gigs in the outskirts of Los Angeles. She gets a call from her ex husband Pete (Kevin Kline) who suggest she fly back to the Midwest to deal with her daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer). Down and dumped, Julie’s situation forces Ricki to face the family she left behind and the impending wedding of her son. The real life mother/daughter duo of Streep and Gummer is fun to watch here with more vivaciousness now as Gummer is more seasoned. Their last pairing in the 2007 poor adaptation of Evening was more eerie as Gummer was hardly known. The chemistry all around is what saves the film from conventionality. Kline is great and such an underused actor right now and I just wanted more of Tony empress Audra McDonald. As the second wife and acting mother of Ricki’s kids, McDonald is a force. Where’s her primetime television show?
Director Jonathan Demme’s last feature was 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, another family impending wedding film. Demme is also active in the music world, directing music videos as well as concert films. He handles the live music portions with skill and cinematographer Declan Quinn balances close ups of performers with audience shots while establishing the onstage report between her band. The connection between Ricki and her music is palpable, but her dive bar Tarzana audience is never left out. Ricki’s story is one of star failure rather than success and her moments of rapture onstage confirm the film’s interpretation of musical performance as expression of true feeling. Ricki both expresses her love for boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) and for her son through song.
Ricki and the Flash is generically structured and Diablo Cody’s script adheres to a typical build up with the wedding. Cody’s last film, 2012’s Young Adult, was crispier and funnier but its protagonist was distinctly unlikable. Here Streep is continually humanized so the audience ultimately roots for her. You cannot help yourself and with musician Springfield, famous for the song ‘Jessie’s Girl,’ at her side you just might believe Streep’s gravely pipes could have made it. Not a bad film Ricki and the Flash ultimately is a vehicle for Streep to act a little bit bad, but still come out on top.