Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: September 4th
In the opening moments of Ricki and the Flash, Meryl Streep reveals her latest dramtic transformation as a guitar-playing, plait-haired rocker and the sight is… odd. Seeing this 66-year-old legend of the silver screen so far out of her element that she’s not even on the periodic table is somewhat uncomfortable and, in fact, dangerously close to being cringeworthy. Thankfully, as the camera turns to reveal her audience – a half-empty dive bar full of mostly uninterested patrons – you realise that this is kind of the point. Ricki is washed up, desperately clinging on for dear life to her dream of being a rock’n’roll goddess. It is a hint at a dark and pathetic underbelly to the story that’s about to unfold, but unfortunately a hint is all we ever seem to get.
As a character, Ricki is loveable and vulnerable in equal measure, and Streep does her best to sell the ‘Cool Mom’ vibe, even if it sometimes comes within a few feet of landing. The main problem is that this should be a film about Ricki coming to terms with what she lost by pursuing her career before her family. In reality, she has accepted her mistakes and shortcomings before we ever see her, meaning it’s lacking any sort of real emotional arc for her. This puts pressure on the supporting cast, and Mamie Gummer (Streep’s daughter both on and off screen) provides laughs and pathos as the permanently dishevelled and pyjama’d Julie, while Kevin Kline is as charming and game as Streep. Rick Springfield also has a commendably strong turn as her bandmate-cum-soulmate Greg, but outside of this central crew most of the other players are seriously under-drawn. Sebastian Stan has less personality than his mind-wiped Winter Soldier, and Ricki’s gay son Adam seems to be there only to add a grounded counterpoint to one-dimensionally flamboyant bartender Daniel who serves as Ricki’s sole proponent.
Ultimately, the movie’s true fault is that it doesn’t have the courage of its convictions. Its best scene involves a round-table reunion of the estranged family that quickly descends into snide bickering and pronged witticisms – the kind of juicy back-and-forth that writer Diablo Cody built a career on. Unfortunately it never seems to allow these moments to play out to their full potential, with punches pulled at every turn and the cutting barbs seemingly topped with cork lest they cut too deep. Perhaps Streep felt she’d had enough family dysfunction in the wake of August: Osage County, so the moments of stomach-knotting panic for the characters dissolve as we realise that it isn’t going to let them fail the way a more cynical comedy would. If you like great rock tunes, this movie has them. If you like a great story edged with dark humour, curb your enthusiasm.