Script a bit uneven, but quite enjoyable
Summary : Excellent rock'n'roll cover band fronted by Meryl Streep and Rick Springfield in a touching family drama. 4 Stars!
Meryl Streep stars as Ricki Rendazzo in Ricki and the Flash. A one-time wife and mother of three, Ricki left her family and Indiana when her children were young, choosing to follow her dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom in California. The film’s story centers upon two of her return visits to this family, now in crisis, and what ensues, interspersed with scenes showing her life as a “rock star” in southern California.
The film opens as Ricki and her rock-and-roll cover band, “The Flash” are playing in an out-of-the-way dive in the San Fernando Valley (Tarzana). The authenticity of the bar scenes was impressive and resonated with me. Over the years, numerous musician lovers, friends, and colleagues have played in this exact setting.
Although the band’s likely “demographic” is well-represented, the portrayals seem a bit stereotyped at times. Ricki’s relationships with the bartender and some of the patrons are spot-on, conveying the notion that this bar is the band’s regular gig. It’s just the right amount of depressing, with excellent music, appreciated by very few: a very poorly paying gig in a sad location.
At her “day job,” Ricki barely ekes out a living as a cashier at Total Foods (a thinly disguised Whole Foods). I have had more than a few jobs that were mind-numbingly boring, with managers as egregiously vapid and controlling as Ricki’s, so I could empathize. Her inclination to bash, subtly or not-so-subtly, on the over-privileged clientele of Total Foods also seems realistic: her exchange with one customer is pricelessly funny and poignant. The store manager and the customers, on the other hand, are thinly drawn and (again) stereotypes: storytelling shortcuts taken throughout the film, which I wished they hadn’t.
Living in a seedy apartment complex that more resembles a run-down motel, Ricki is perennially broke. Kudos to the designer for the several great touches of detail in this setting: the ocean-sound white noise machine, the beaded “curtain” between “rooms,” and the clothes rack on wheels serving as her “closet,” all of which seem in harmony with Ricki’s character and circumstances.
Younger bandmate Greg (Rick Springfield), and former husband Pete (Kevin Kline) are Ricki’s erstwhile romantic interests, but her scenes with each are oddly truncated–script or editing flaws? Emotionally authentic and realistic scenes between Springfield and Streep both during and outside the song sets made their characters more three-dimensional. Although the acting in all of Streep’s scenes with both Kline and Springfield is excellent, the men weren’t given enough to do in their roles.
Scenes of Ricki (AKA Linda) preparing for a trip to Indiana to try to help her depressed adult daughter Julie (played by one of Streep’s actual daughters, Mamie Gumm) could have been cut with no loss to the story, leaving space that would have been better used to develop her relationships with her adult sons or her romantic interests, all of which are short-changed.
Gumm plays Julie as the distraught, depressed, discouraged and angry rejected wife to perfection, complete with explosions at both of her parents, both brothers and at strangers in public places. Gumm gave an amazing performance, conveying complex, mixed and quickly changing emotions in several intense moments which were very well-directed. But once again, the filmmakers do not devote enough time and detail to bring this character and her interactions out of stereotypes and clichés.
During this first visit, Ricki sees her two sons for the first time in many years: Josh (Sebastian Stan), engaged (a surprise to Ricki) to the very uptight Emily (Hailey Gates) and Adam (Nick Westrate), bitterest of them all. For example, at their first mother-son “reunion,” Adam announces (for what seems to be the umpteenth time) that he is gay, accusing his mother of being a fake liberal and a closet homophobic. The scene, like so much of the movie, features more cliches and mugging/performing than actual acting. I blame the script and directing choices rather than the actors themselves.
Pete’s wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), has been the children’s actual, on-site mom since they were quite young. Mo returns unexpectedly during Ricki’s stay and boots her back to California. But eventually, Ricki receives an invitation to Josh and Emily’s wedding and a “please forgive me” note from Mo.
The film features some excellent performance scenes of the band, covering rock classics and an excellent original song. A great singer, Streep learned to play the guitar (is there anything she can’t learn?), and Springfield is an authentic 1980s rock star-actor. The rest of the band members are played by actual musicians (Joe Vitale, drums; Bernie Worrell, keyboard; the late Rick Rosas, to whom the film is dedicated on bass) and they ROCKED!
The soundtrack, performed by Streep, Springfield and company, includes classics like Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs’ “Wooly Bully,” Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Streep also performs “Cold One,” a track specifically written for the film by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, which they credit to Ricki’s songwriting skills. Streep does this tune solo on acoustic guitar quite beautifully, first, then it’s done by the full band at the end of the film.
Ricki’s story is well-told. However, I was disappointed that two other outstanding singers in this cast sang were given not one note to sing: multiple Tony Award winners Audra McDonald (Porgy and Bess, Carousel, etc.) and Kevin Kline (Pirates of Penzance, etc.).
I screened this film with my two adult sisters and our mother (we’re all over 50), so we thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack and the band’s musicianship as they covered each song. We thought the family drama aspects were a bit over-done and the script was uneven at best, but we would recommend it, nonetheless, if you like Streep and this kind of music.Powered by Sidelines