Ricki and the Flash movie review: rocking (down and) out

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Ricki and the Flash yellow light

There’s some good stuff here, like the prickly relationships between women at odds with one another, but too much feels too contrived to fully satisfy.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Meryl Streep; desperate for movies about women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

So it turns out that Ricki and the Flash is almost the same movie as Danny Collins, except where Al Pacino got to be a ridiculously wealthy aging rock star who could throw tons of money at his estranged family in order to win them back — which works, of course, even though it shouldn’t — Meryl Streep gets to be a poor musician in a house band in a mostly empty suburban Los Angeles watering hole, playing cover tunes and going bankrupt, with no money to throw at her estranged family in order to win them back. Women just can’t win: we get a movie with a female protagonist, but she doesn’t get the fantasy life that guys in movies get: Streep’s Ricki has to deal with everyday down-to-earth crap like being forced to work as a cashier in “Total Foods” between gigs. And now her ex, Pete (Kevin Kline: My Old Lady), calls her home to Indianapolis because their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer [The Lifeguard], Streep’s own daughter and near dead ringer), is having a major nervous breakdown after her husband left her.

There’s some good stuff here, such as the prickly interactions between Ricki and her daughter, and between Ricki and her kids’ stepmother, Pete’s second wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald: It Runs in the Family), all of it rough around the edges with pain and resentment and yet also with (eventually) bittersweet understanding and grudging acceptance. But too much of the film is contrived — Ricki feels like she was created, as a character, by screenwriter Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body) with the help of 20-sided dice: she’s a rock musician who *roll of the dice* is politically conservative; thanks, Obama! — and too on-the-nose, as with Ricki’s rant to her crowd of bar fans about the double standard applied to mothers, who get castigated for doing what fathers get away with, like have their own life apart from their children. (That’s true, of course, but something other than a sledgehammer approach would be more effective at making us appreciate that.) Streep (The Giver) is fab, of course, as is the rest of the cast, including Rick Springfield as Ricki’s (almost manic-pixie-ish) bandmate boyfriend; he’s a nice rock ’n’ roll throwback touch. But this isn’t quite the “Streep as a rock star” movie she — or we — deserve.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Ricki and the Flash for its representation of girls and women.

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Danielm80
Danielm80
Wed, Sep 09, 2015 1:58pm

I’m confused by this bit:

…except where Al Pacino got to be a ridiculously wealthy aging rock star who could throw tons of money at his estranged family in order to win them back — which works, of course, even though it shouldn’t — Meryl Street gets to be a poor musician in a house band in a mostly empty suburban Los Angeles watering hole, playing cover tunes and going bankrupt, with no money to throw at her estranged family in order to win them back. Women just can’t win: we get a movie with a female protagonist, but she doesn’t get the fantasy life that guys in movies get…

I mean, I understand the need for a wide variety of female roles. And I understand the appeal of preposterous fantasy. That’s what Tony Stark is for. But you almost seem to be faulting the movie for being realistic and believable. I wouldn’t want every film to be a kitchen-sink drama, but if a movie does portray reality in a convincing way, isn’t that a good thing? What am I missing?

Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton
reply to  Danielm80
Wed, Sep 09, 2015 2:51pm

I can’t speak for MAJ. But for me, with its realistic trappings, “Ricki and the Flash” comes off as rather lightweight in tone. There’s no bits of crushing reality like there was in “Juno” that offset the quirky humor.

The movie wants have its cake and eat it too, as evidenced in the wedding reception-turned-rock-concert.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Wed, Sep 09, 2015 5:14pm

I’m not faulting the movie, just the overall movie environment.

ETA: As Matt Clayton says, this is still a pretty light movie. This might have been better if it was a lot grittier (or perhaps not — this wasn’t an issue in my lack of love for the film).

RogerBW
RogerBW
Wed, Sep 09, 2015 2:06pm

What happened to Diablo Cody? Did she really only have the one great script in her?

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  RogerBW
Wed, Sep 09, 2015 3:43pm

I’m not sure Diablo Cody has ever written a great script. She’s written a lot of scripts with great things in them. I loved parts of Young Adult, parts of The United States of Tara, even parts of Jennifer’s Body. Juno was very well-acted and well-directed (and it had an amazing soundtrack), but for me, some of the dialogue was so hyper-articulate that it got cloying very fast. I think Cody has the same faults every time she writes a screenplay. Some directors are just better at hiding them than others.