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New Release Review - RICKI AND THE FLASH

An aging rocker re-enters her troubled daughter's life.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jonathan Demme

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan




"Filmmakers and viewers may disagree on whether Ricki should be celebrated as a free spirit or frowned upon as a sociopath, but if one person fully understands the character, it's Streep, who turns Cody's rough toilet tissue script into graded parchment."






What to make of Ricki, the aging rocker played with relish by Meryl Streep in a role that will no doubt assure her position once again on the Best Actress shortlist next February? Is she the film's protagonist or its antagonist? Perhaps Ricki and the Flash is nuanced enough to suggest she may be a little of both? Sadly, the film is penned by Diablo Cody, a screenwriter who has been accused of many things, but nuance isn't one of them.
We first meet Ricki onstage with her band The Flash, belting out a raucous cover of Tom Petty's American Girl to a handful of enthusiastic patrons in a small Californian bar. Between songs, an argument breaks out when Ricki and guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield) decide to debate the status of their relationship. Ricki claims it's nothing serious, Greg disagrees. Aah, the classic rom-com archetype, the woman who just can't admit she needs a man. This is but the first glimpse the movie gives us into Cody's long established conservative ethos (who can forget the despicable and dangerous planned parenthood hatchet job that was Juno?). With each script, Cody's work veers closer to the tone of a Seventh Heaven episode.
Following an unexpected call from ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), Ricki scrapes together enough cash to fly to Indiana to provide comfort for her estranged daughter, Julie (Streep's real-life offspring Mamie Gummer), whose husband just walked out on her (in Cody's 'family values' worldview, cheating is pretty much the worst sin you can commit). Julie is none too happy to see Mommy turn up out of the blue, and the same goes for her two brothers, as Ricki pretty much ditched the family long ago. Determined to win her daughter's affection, or at least attention, Ricki decides to stick around, though in truth she has no other choice, as she can't afford a flight out of there.
While it's great to see an actress approaching her seventies get a meaty, non-patronising lead role like this, Ricki and the Flash is as conventional as rom-coms get, following the now tiresome formula of 'self-centred screw-up makes reluctant return home and subsequently discovers the meaning of life in simple values'. The thing is though, Ricki doesn't actually change; she's just as much of a narcissist at the movie's climax as she was in the first act. Ricki leeches from many sources - doting wannabe boyfriend Greg, still carrying a torch Pete, and her unsuspecting son-in-law, whose credit card she runs up a hefty bill with - but none of these unearned pennies drop at any point. I'm not sure the film itself realises just how problematic Ricki is, as the character is rewarded for committing an incredibly selfish act in the finale that she would be castigated for in reality.
Filmmakers and viewers may disagree on whether Ricki should be celebrated as a free spirit or frowned upon as a sociopath, but if one person fully understands the character, it's Streep, who turns Cody's rough toilet tissue script into graded parchment. 'Not again!' we might exclaim when Streep's name makes it onto the Best Actress shortlist next year, but it would be difficult to justify her exclusion.



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