Sunday 2 June 2019

Movie Review: Ricki And The Flash (2015)

A family drama with comic touches and plenty of music, Ricki And The Flash offers commentary on family responsibility double standards between women and men, but is an otherwise routine story about the pursuit of individual passions.

Linda (Meryl Streep) is well into middle age and still chasing her rock star dream. Adopting the stage name Ricki Rendazzo she performs cover tunes with the band The Flash at a nondescript Los Angeles-area pub. Lead guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield) has a crush on her, but she is not sure why. Perpetually broke and on the edge of bankruptcy, Linda also works as a supermarket checkout cashier to try and make ends meet.

Her wealthy ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) calls from Indianapolis, requesting Linda's help to care for their grown daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep's real-life daughter) who is deeply depressed after her husband abandoned her for another woman. Linda makes the trip and improves Julie's mood, but her history of abandoning the family does not sit well with her two grown sons Joshua (Sebastian Stan) and Adam (Nick Westrate), nor Pete's wife Maureen (Audra McDonald).

Independent-minded women are judged more harshly than men when they walk out on family responsibilities and strike out to fulfil their ambitions. This is the core message from writer Diablo Cody embedded within Ricki And The Flash, and in the hands of Meryl Streep, Linda is an honest, uncompromising voice for women all too aware of their faults and the whispers of others just behind their backs.

Although well-intentioned, Ricki And The Flash is also emotionally limited by its protagonist. Despite flashes of happiness with ex-husband Pete, recovering daughter Julie and potential lover Greg, the film constructs an earthy reality of what a dead-end life looks like. Linda comes alive on stage, but an out-of-the-way pub with a few regulars is the extent of her stardom, and she does not care. This is what she has decided to offer the world, and the narrative loops back to a rather corny wedding climax with Linda gifting her brood the only thing she possesses.

The comic moments are better and build on the unwelcome mom awkwardly trying to catch up to her children's lives. A dinner scene at a swanky restaurant where every wrong thing is expressed in absolutely the wrong way is irresistibly delicious.

But in his final outing director Jonathan Demme struggles to fill out the 100 minutes of running time, and too many songs are performed in their entirety to pad the film. The quite incredible Streep, at age 66, has fun rocking out, convincingly doing her own live singing and guitar playing, but the film does sag as it searches for content.

Without ignoring the price to be paid and the sacrifices made, Ricki And The Flash salutes women carving an unconventional path, but the applause is more polite than raucous.

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