9 August 2015 | CleveMan66
"Ricki and the Flash" features a good premise and outstanding acting, but mediocre writing and directing.
It has to be tough to be the child of a living legend, especially in show business, but Mamie Gummer seems to be handling it quite well, thank you very much. The oldest daughter of multiple Oscar winner Meryl Streep, Gummer is making a name for herself in the family business. Like Emilio Estevez (son of Martin Sheen) and Angelina Jolie (daughter of Jon Voight), Gummer uses a family name (her father's last name) while establishing her own identity in film (and television). Like Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith), Gummer has joined her famous parent on screen while developing her acting skills. As a toddler, Gummer had a role in her mother's movie "Heartburn" (1987). As an adult, Gummer played a younger version of her mother's character in 2007's "Evening". (Gummer also had a brief scene in Streep's 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada" but that scene was dropped in editing.) In 2015, it's the mother-daughter team playing mother and daughter in "Ricki and the Flash" (PG-13, 1:41) – and it's kind of hard to decide which actress did a better job.
Streep plays the title character, Ricki Rendazzo, an aging rock musician. The film opens with Ricki playing a set of musical covers as the singer in a local bar's house band. She obviously loves what she's doing, but it's short of where she hoped she'd be, having to hold another job as a supermarket cashier to make ends meet (and then, just barely). Then, not long into the story, her other identity beckons. Pete Brummel (Kevin Klein) repeatedly calls her cell phone until she finally answers. He's not calling Ricki. He's calling his ex-wife Linda to tell her that their daughter, Julie (Gummer) has been dumped by her cheating husband and dad is worried about her. It's an understatement. Although she can barely afford the ticket, Ricki-slash-Linda hops on a plane from L.A. back home to Indianapolis to be there for her daughter. It's the most she's done for any of her children in over 25 years.
As you might imagine, in her kids' eyes, this grand gesture isn't nearly enough to make up for leaving the family to pursue her rock and roll fantasy in the late 80s – and having precious little contact with them since. Ricki's appearance sends the very depressed and highly-medicated Julie into a rage and a family dinner which includes her two sons (Sebastian Stan and Ben Platt) goes only a little bit better. During her short visit, Ricki makes considerable progress pulling Linda out of her funk, but when Pete's current wife (Audra McDonald) returns from a visit with her sick father, it's clear that it's time for Ricki to leave. It's back to California, back to the grocery store, back to the bar stage and back to her lead guitarist pseudo-boyfriend, Greg (Rick Springfield). As Ricki tortures herself over the sorry state of her relationship with her children, Greg comforts her and encourages her not to quit trying to make amends. As badly as she wants to make this better, an opportunity that arises to do just that still makes for a difficult decision.
Considering the great pedigree of "Ricki and the Flash", the movie should have been better than it was. Oh, don't get me wrong – the acting is top notch, but other aspects of the film were disappointing. Streep does her usual outstanding work (not to take her for granted, but this is Meryl Streep were talking about here) – and there are award-worthy performances from Streep's fellow Oscar veteran (and former co-star) Kevin Kline, definitely from Ms. Gummer, from McDonald and even from Springfield. I expected more, however, from Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs") and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno").
Except for one great line late in the movie, the dialog is unremarkable and often the story feels forced. In one scene, Ricki points out the double-standard for male and female rock musicians who are absentee parents, but fails to acknowledge that Ricki could have still done had more of a relationship with her children than she did. A few references are made to Ricki being a conservative (even though she's a musician in California and her family back in the mid-West seems pretty liberal), but never gives any context for that characterization or even makes it at all pertinent to the story. The script also fails to explain anything about the circumstances surrounding Ricki's departure from the family or much about how her career developed over the ensuing quarter century.
Throughout the film, questionable writing and directing choices overplay many characters' disdain for Ricki to the point that the ultimate resolution of the story feels far-fetched. Even some of the camera work and editing seem unnecessarily melodramatic. The theme of family reconciliation is worthy and heart-warming, but for a story of an aging rocker trying to reconnect with family left behind, 2015's "Danny Collins" is a much better story and with equally good acting. The acting is the main reason to see "Ricki". The rest is just a small flash in the pan. "B-"