Synopsis: Meryl Streep takes on a whole new gig – a hard-rocking singer/guitarist – for Oscar®-winning director Jonathan Demme and Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody in Ricki and the Flash. In an original and electrifying film loaded with live musical performances, Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo, a guitar heroine who made a world of mistakes as she followed her dreams of rock-and-roll stardom. Returning home, Ricki gets a shot at redemption and a chance to make things right as she faces the music with her family. Streep stars opposite her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer; Rick Springfield, portraying a Flash member in love with Ricki; Kevin Kline as Ricki’s ex-husband; and Audra McDonald as Kline’s new wife.
Ricki and The Flash 7.75
eyelights: Meryl Streep. Rick Springfield. Kevin Kline. the supporting cast. its bending of gender types.
eyesores: the conventional plot. the facile happy ending.
“Hey, you guys are fighting; it’s like the ’80s all over again!”
‘Ricki and The Flash’… doesn’t sound like much, does it? Frankly, with a title like that, I myself wouldn’t usually pay it any mind; um… it sounds “’80s” in that not good way. And it stars Meryl Streep as a sexagenarian rocker whose been fronting her own band for decades. I don’t know… Streep’s a great actress but, to me, this pushed the boundaries of credibility.
And, you know, it smacked of the same type of delusion that makes Stallone and Schwarzenegger continue to make action movies past their prime.
But I’d read a few interviews with the stars of ‘Ricki and The Flash’ and was taken by the notion that it all plays on a role-reversal, with Streep playing what is traditionally a male part and Rick Springfield being the lovelorn band member who pines for his older boss. Plus it was written by Diablo Cody. And, come on: it stars Meryl Streep and Rick Springfield!!!
I became intrigued.
‘Ricki and The Flash’ is a dramedy about a woman who has turned her back on her family to pursue her rock and roll dreams (to continued, but quite muted, success) and finally has to come to terms with the impact that this has had on them; although everyone has moved on years ago, there remains much resentment and no small amount of dysfunction.
A cashier by day, Ricki Rendazzo (née Linda Brummell) is called in by her ex-husband (played to perfection by Kevin Kline) to fly across the country to help their daughter get through a terrible divorce. In the short time that she’s with them, she finds ways to reconnect with her kids and help soothe some of the aches that remain – in turn opening her own eyes.
It may sound bleak, but ‘Rick and The Flash’ is a character study that’s laced with irony and social commentary – it had me chuckling regularly throughout. And it’s also a rock and roll film, with countless performances by Streep, Springfield and the rest of the band covering bar-room classics by Canned Heat, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Edgar Winter.
…and a few pop tracks by the likes of Lady Gaga, P!nk, and Gnarls Barkley (they are, after all, a bar band – they have to take requests).
But those self-indulgent bits (the songs are always performed in full) can be a lot of fun to watch. Although it’s staged for the screen, one gets the impression that the band members are enjoying each other. And it’s all completely believable: not only did Streep learn to play guitar and perform in the band, the rest consist of true-life career musicians.
Streep is her usual excellent self, totally owning the part like no one else could. If anyone doubted that she could play and aging rocker, this shakes that belief. Plus which Streep benefits from a script that explores Ricki’s many layers, and this is where Streep excels – she could already sing, so all she needed to do was learn to play and she was set.
Rick Springfield was also quite good as Greg, her guitarist. Obviously he was a natural at rockin’ on stage, but to hold his own against Streep is pretty impressive; he’s not of the same caliber (few are), but he has a few really good moments. I also really loved his character, who is honorable, well-intentioned, and meaning to do right by Ricki. Very nice.
Kevin Kline impressed me as well. I’m no great fan of his, feeling that he usually exudes an unpleasant aura of arrogance, but he was able to turn in a performance that softened that snootiness. Although he’s typecast as a stuffed shirt, he makes Pete somewhat sympathetic and subtly humourous. He was an excellent counterpoint to Streep’s Ricki.
Although my favourites were Streep, Springfield and Kline, the cast was uniformly solid. I was half-surprised to find out that Marnie Gummer, who plays Ricki’s daughter, Julie, is actually Streep’s daughter. I say “half-surprised” because I was already impressed that the casting director had found an actress whose features were similar to Streep’s.
It all makes sense now.
But, ultimately, what I liked most was the script’s departure of traditional silver screen gender roles: Ricki is basically a male archetype, but played as a woman – not adapted or toned down. She’s a dude rocker, but she isn’t a dude. I also like that she gets the younger guy, not the other way around, and that he’s the one who’s chasing her.
(On that note, in real life Springfield is nearly the same age as Streep, so I assume he’s meant to be the same age as her in the film. It’s just that he looks so damned youthful for a 65-year-old. Sure, there’s lovely gray in his beard, which he may very well have grown to add to his age, but the guy looks way younger than 65 to me.)
Where the script trips up is that it follows the traditional structure of both the rock movie and the family drama at once: Ricki is naturally triumphant on stage and in her relationships – she not only renews her ties with her kids, heals wounds, and gets the guy, she also shows to everyone just what she’s capable of as a musician. Ho-hum.
Been there, done that.
And that’s the only reason I have some reservations about ‘Ricki and The Flash’: even though it’s unconventional from an age and gender standpoint, it’s extremely conventional on other levels. Perhaps that’s intentional: perhaps the filmmakers wanted to make some parts easier for the audience to digest – to go along with the more challenging parts.
Well, if it can help to change audiences’ perceptions of age and gender roles, I’m all for it. Maybe it’s a question of baby steps. Perhaps we need a few movies like this one to ready people to accept new views, before we can go for the throat and normalize what shouldn’t be abnormal in the first place; conventions are securing but very limiting.
Ricki wouldn’t have any of it. And neither should we, really.
Date of viewing: August 13, 2015