Movie Review: ‘Ricki And The Flash’
Few Hollywood heavyweights are as polarizing as Diablo Cody. In fact, the mere mention of her name can elicit an entire spectrum of reactions, from effusive praise and enthusiasm to flat out groans and eye-rolling. Just ask two friends what they thought of her breakthrough, 2007’s baby-mama drama, Juno (for which she won a best original screenplay Oscar), and listen while one praises its creativity and boldness while the other refers to its idiosyncratic, hipster-esq style as nauseating.
That said, there is no denying that Cody is an unabashedly unique voice in moviemaking. And fortunately, her latest effort, a collaboration with the one and only Meryl Streep, warmly directed by the effortlessly cool Jonathan Demme should satisfy both sides of the aisle. Gorgeously acted and surprisingly affecting, Ricki and The Flash is easily her best work since Young Adult.
Ricki Randazzo (Streep) has fought hard for the little slice of musical life she’s carved out in Los Angeles. Sure, instead of rocking The Greek or The Troubadour like her idols, Chrissie Hynde and Stevie Nicks, she’s playing covers with her band, The Flash, as the house entertainment at a dive bar in Tarzana. But hey, you can’t put a price on doing what you love. Unless of course, you were once a suburban mom of three who left your 9-5er husband (Kevin Kline) and three young children back in Indiana to pursue said dream… Now, with her grown daughter (Mamie Gummer) in crisis, it’s time for this prodigal mom to finally come home and pay the piper. Of course, that’s if her family’ll have her.
But who, you ask, wouldn’t want a visit from Ricki– at least as played by Meryl Streep, sporting tight leather, smoky eyes, and a quasi-Skrillex cut? Yes, she’s a flag waving Republican with a serious flight-mentality and a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas, but with Streep in control, the aging rocker is also a charismatic force, capable of rocking the hell out of a Springsteen and/or Pink cover as well as cutting instantly through her daughter’s bs. Continuing her 30+ year hotstreak, the actress turns in yet another performance that is so richly drawn, she’s even able to connect many of the dots left stranded in Cody’s heartfelt and funny, if at times, slightly farfetched and disjointed script.
Luckily, in doing so, she also encourages everyone sharing the screen with her to rise to the same level. Pros, Kevin Kline and Audra McDonald – playing the step-mom who swooped in and picked up the pieces after Ricki left – bring some added class, while pleasant surprises, Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield – yes, Mr. General Hospital/”Jessie’s Girl” himself – each give nuanced, award-worthy performances.
Credit for this also goes to Jonathan Demme, a director who wisely knows when to get out of the way of his actors and to let them do their thing. Much like his 2007 film Rachel Getting Married, Demme fosters a loose, improvised feel that not only grounds even the most over-the-top scenes in authenticity, but also truly makes the audience feel like a fly on the wall- whether its at the dinner table with Ricki and her family, or rocking it out on stage with the Flash.
And rock out you will to Streep’s virtuosic wailing and guitar strumming (which she, of course, just learned to do for the film). After all, much like it’s titular character, Ricki and The Flash may be far from perfect, but there is no denying the talent, exuberance, and open heart behind it.
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