Meryl Streep has earned the right to be watched in anything she does, which is good because she’s pretty much the only thing worth watching in the shallow and pedantic Ricki and the Flash. Here is a film that will get cinefiles excited with a solid cast, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) directing, and Diablo Cody (Juno) writing the script, and yet Ricki and the Flash squanders its considerable opportunity with predictable drivel. Just about everyone involved in this project is better than what they show here, easily making this a movie for all the world to skip.
Streep plays Ricki Randazzo, a mother of three who 20 years ago decided life on the road with a rock ‘n’ roll band was more important than staying at home and being a mom. Her life now consists of playing cover songs at a half-empty dive bar by night and working as a grocery store cashier by day. In the game of life, most would agree she’s lost.
Ricki’s ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), who’s the father of her children, has moved on to marry Maureen (Audra McDonald), who’s been the loving and attentive mother Ricki never was. Josh (Sebastian Stan) and Adam (Nick Westrate) are the sons; Josh is engaged to Emily (Hailey Gates) and seems well adjusted, while Adam hates his mother with a bitter passion. But the reason Ricki returns home after a phone call from Pete is because their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter), is a total mess because her husband just left her for another woman. Ricki didn’t go to Julie’s wedding, but at least the mother of the year is around for the divorce. (Aside: Gummer’s performance is entertaining, but how daunting it must be to try to emerge from Streep’s shadow and pave her own path in this business.)
One reason three-time Oscar winner Streep is so great is because of how much she gives her fellow actors. A glance here, a pinch on the cheek there, and even a reaction to what someone says signifies validation and respect for her cast mates, which coming from Streep has to mean the world. One person who especially benefits from working opposite Streep is Rick Springfield, the “Jessie’s Girl” singer-turned-actor (General Hospital, True Detective) who reaches levels of unexpected emotional poignancy. In fact, a movie about Springfield’s Greg, the guitarist in Ricki’s band who’s also in love with her, and Ricki coming to terms with where they are in life probably would’ve been more interesting than what we get here.
But for all that Streep brings to her movies, Cody’s story has nothing new or interesting to say. Meanwhile, Demme’s directing is woefully plain. We’ve seen this movie before where the estranged parent returns home to an unwelcoming reception, while the chaos that is her children’s lives only adds to the artificial obstacles our protagonist must overcome before the foregone conclusion is reached. It’s all so basic and simple that it’s shocking filmmakers of this caliber — both Demme and Cody are Oscar winners — didn’t realize more was needed in order to give audiences something they’d actually want to see.
The soundtrack to Ricki and the Flash is littered with classic and modern pop hits, most of which are sung by Streep and Springfield. But even feel-good familiarity and Streep’s presence can’t salvage the wasteland that is this story.