Movie Review: Ricki and the Flash (PG-13)
Starring Meryl Streep
Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jonathan Demme
All the instruments seemed to be there. A legendary female lead, an authentic rockstar male counterpart, a brilliant writer, a respected director. Yet, Ricki and The Flash failed to achieve harmony.
Linda Brummel (also known as Ricki Rendazzo) is living the life of a starving artist in Los Angeles, holding a residency at a dive bar in Tarzana and working at the ‘fictitious’, thinly-veiled “Total Foods”. (I wonder if it gets real in THEIR parking lot?). Not much glamour to be had here, but we get the sense it’s a life she’s grown accustomed to living.
Then she receives a phone call from her ex-husband in the Midwest, asking her to come support her adult daughter who’s been abandoned by her husband. Of course, she goes and the story plays out predictably. The husband and three children that she left behind years ago hurl around their resentments, Ricki brings her ‘zany’ rock and roll persona to suburbia, and in the end, all are reconciled with a musical number and a wedding to boot.
Meryl Streep is a peerless actor; however, she is not a rocker. The scenes in which she is called upon to sing and play guitar she executes accurately, but with Rick Springfield, a skilled musician, less than three feet away from her, the artifice is, at best, distracting, at worst, painful.
But besides the fact that the title role would have been better served by Lita Ford, Melissa Etheridge, or Cherie Currie, the real disappointment here is the script.
Uneven and lacking in originality, it’s hard to believe that this is the work of Diablo Cody, who has never let us down before. It leads me to wonder if there were behind-the-scenes changes that were based on commercialism rather than art. If so, she has my sympathy.
Because whatever the cause, the end result comes off like a mix of ‘Dirty Dancing’, ‘Light of Day’ and ‘Mamma Mia’- and not in a good way. If this was meant to be an honest story of a woman in her sixties, still slogging it out in a cover band, then this should have been grittier and with more emotional depth. If it was meant to be a lighthearted rom-com (as Kevin Kline’s character seemed to scream) then Ricki’s speeches should have been less awkward, her children less strident, and the songs more familiar (a playlist of obscure classic rock tunes was only occasionally punctuated by hits like ‘American Girl’ or ‘Drift Away’).
It wasn’t altogether unentertaining; Rick Springfield’s earnest lead guitarist seems to have the best idea of what was going on and tried to convey it. But in the end, the lack of a clear tone made the entire film out of tune. Thus, the actors plugged along, each playing their own notes to entirely different songs.
VK Lynne is a writer and musician from Los Angeles. She penned the award-winning web series ‘Trading on 15’, and her work has been published in Image Curve, The Elephant Journal and GEM Magazine. She sings lead for LA-based band, The Spider Accomplice.