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Ricki and the Flash ••

Ricki_and_the_Flash_posterStarring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer
Director: Jonathan Demme
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Comedy/Drama/Music, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: August 7, 2015


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Scott, don’t lose that number, it’s time to review Ricki and the Flash.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Ricki has some splainin to do. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep), an aging rocker working bars and honky tonks and playing songs from the classic age of rock and roll – with an occasional diversion into Pink. She’s barely making ends meet between her gigs and clerking at the grocery store, when she gets a call from her ex-husband that their 20-something daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) has attempted suicide.

Ricki scrapes up enough money to fly to Indianapolis to give her daughter Julie some emotional support. She’s too poor to stay at a hotel and so she stays with her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) who lives in a mansion with his current wife Maureen (Audra McDonald). Ricki must deal with Julie’s resentment toward her, and the awkwardness of her visit is compounded by the arrival of her other two children and Maureen herself.

Scott, there’s nothing really interesting about this story. Unless you are a fan of Meryl Streep. As usual, she gives a great performance. She reminds me of Bonnie Raitt from the 90’s. Frankly, I thought she sauntered through this role. It didn’t look like much of a stretch for her. On the other hand, Streep’s own daughter plays the role of Julie. Gummer does a passable job as the spoiled and distraught daughter.

Ricki brings a certain chaos to Pete’s life which is otherwise quite bland. And it looks as though that chaos is what attracted Pete to Ricki in the first place. The story goes through the usual paces with Ricki telling her daughter to skip therapy and take a spa day. There’s also a run-in with the new wife who held the family together in Ricki’s absence. And then there’s the bisexual son who is really gay but never told Ricki. It’s all very run of the mill without a lot of real conflict. Just situations where conflict might exist.

It’s a good story, Greg. The problem is that everything that happens is too predictable and too saccharine. Ricki starts out estranged from just about everyone — her band member Greg (Rick Springfield), her ex-husband, all her children. Because she’s not a bad person, we know that by the end of the story she’ll have bonded with everyone.

The question then becomes how does Ricki’s life change. What we find is that the transformation of all these relationships occurs in unsurprising ways. In-between all these predictable events we’re treated to a lot, and I do mean a lot, of Meryl Streep belting out 70s rock tunes. She does an amazing job, but what we really have here is a 45-minute movie with a 90-minute playing time.

As a hero, Ricki is very flawed. She is insensitive to her boyfriend – refusing to admit she “loves” him or that they are dating. She left her children to be a rock star – a goal that never materialized. She apparently spent little time with her kids as they grew up – letting another woman raise them. It’s only her relaxed lifestyle and clear affection for her children that redeems her to us. And it’s enough to allow us to sympathize with her and root for her to do well.

It’s interesting that we never see Ricki behave poorly as a wife to Pete or as a mother to her three children. We only see her as a sympathetic figure, a woman trying to atone for her past mistakes and who ends up doing a fine job with her redemption. It’s nice that everyone ends up forgiving her, accepting her, and loving her in the end, but this resolution seems unrealistic. And maybe that’s the point — we don’t ever see dysfunctional families doing a big group hug at the end, but we sure would like to.

The supporting cast does a workmanlike job in this film. Rick Springfield surprised me with his acting chops. Pete and the kids are pretty much stock characters who make our hero’s life difficult for a while, but they soften in the end, much like Ricki has softened. Perhaps ‘soft’ is the key term here — this movie is soft in many, not very flattering ways. Like you said, Greg, Streep shows off her vast talents here, but this film is nevertheless a light, fluffy, made-for-TV movie.

I liked the second wife in this movie – Maureen. She’s a strong woman who stepped into the hole that Ricki left. It’s an interesting dynamic between Maureen and Ricki. There’s a sense that Maureen successfully eased Ricki out of her children’s lives. Then, when Ricki returns to California, Maureen has a change of heart and invites Ricki to her son’s wedding. Or was it a change of heart? Was Maureen aware that Ricki wouldn’t have the funds to fly back? Regardless, it is her boyfriend Greg who sells his Stratocaster so that Ricki can attend the wedding.

And that raises a question for me about secondary heroes. Greg is a secondary character, but he is a sort of martyr. He gives up something of great value to him, so that the hero of the story can have something she wants. He’s an enabler of sorts – or in the lexicon of our book “Reel Heroes and Villains” – a catalyst for Ricki’s change.

Ricki and the Flash is a pleasant movie about an aging mom who was once a bad mother and is now given a chance to redeem herself. This theme is a common one in today’s movies — witness films such as 3 Days To Kill, Snitch, and A Good Day To Die Hard. The baby-boomer generation is apparently desperate to make amends to the younger generation for its self-indulgent ways. Ricki isn’t a bad movie but I won’t be giving it a second look. The film deserves about 2 Reels out of 5.

Our hero Ricki is on a journey of redemption. She has no mentors, really, and on her own she relies on kindness, loyalty, and patience to win the hearts of her grown children. Perhaps these are the missing qualities that Ricki needed to achieve her redemption, but we are given no insight into how she acquired them. The hero journey is thus a bit stunted. I award Ricki 2 Heroes out of 5.

The supporting characters are adequate but unmemorable. When I think back to this movie, all I’ll really remember is Streep’s excellent performance as Ricki and as a rock’n roll wanna-be star. Generously I’ll award the supporting characters 2 rating points out of 5.

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Agreed on all counts, Scott. Ricki and the Flash is merely a vehicle for Streep’s daughter, Gummer, to have a bit of the spotlight. Perhaps art imitates life as Streep gives something back to her own daughter. We’ve seen this in other films like Will and Jaden Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) and again in Beyond Earth (2013). Movie history is rife with nepotism. I give Ricki and the Flash just 2 out of 5 Reels.

The hero story is pretty simple. Ricki does go through a transformation in that she reconnects with her children. And she realizes that she loves her boyfriend Greg and has to accept him as her lover or lose him. She has been pushing people away her whole life and finally realizes she has to be less selfish. I give her 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The secondary characters are pretty boilerplate, two-dimensional cutouts. The husband is a bland businessman, the second wife is heartless, the kids are a selection of Lifetime tropes (depressed daughter, yuppie son, and gay son). The character I liked most was Greg the boyfriend because it is his sacrifice that tilts the scales and catalyzes Ricki into the transformation she needs. And he has a likable name. I give the supporting cast 2 out of 5 Cast points.

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