Meryl Streep Plays The Hits But RICKI AND THE FLASH Fails To Chart

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RICKI AND THE FLASH opens Aug 7, 2015.

 Meryl Streep is an impressive figure in Hollywood. We all knew she could act. She’s been nominated for dozens of awards and is not shy about taking on varied and challenging roles. For the lead role in RICKI AND THE FLASH, Streep learned to play guitar in 3 just three months. Is that a nearly impossible task for most people? Probably not, but despite my deep appreciation of music I have neither an ear nor talent for it myself. When I heard that the Streep was playing a rocker who gave up her family to pursue her dream in a film written by Diablo Cody (JUNO) and directed by Jonathan Demme (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS) I was intrigued. It sounded like there could be a “Chick Flick” underneath the electric guitar jams, but I couldn’t pass it up.

And I was right—it is a chick flick, at least in terms of the plot. When Ricki(Streep) gets a call from ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) about their daughter Julie (Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer) and her spiral of severe depression following a bad break up, she leaves her steady if not quite fulfilling or lucrative gig as the house band of a bar in Los Angeles to reconnect with the family. Julie is at first reluctant but slowly came to appreciate her mother’s presence. After a time she returns to her band, Ricki and the Flash, as you might have guessed from the title of the picture, and her lead guitarist/lover Greg (Rick Springfield). Meanwhile her son Joshua (CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE WINTER SOLDIER’s Sebastian Stan) was trying to keep his upcoming wedding a secret from her. When word leaks out, Ricki and Greg show up, make everyone a bit uncomfortable, and then surprise the reception with their musical prowess.

Streep is fine, as usual, and for someone with only 90 days or so of training she’s quite passable on the guitar. Springfield actually surprised me. I was a fan of his in the 1980s but I don’t honestly recall him being a guitarist. I only ever pictured him as a vocalist, pining for Jessie’s girl. He was better than I gave him credit for coming in. The on-screen relationship between Streep and daughter Gummer seems perfectly natural, as you might expect. Kevin Kline, who has earned the right to be choosy about his roles, but whom I can always take more of, has some great moments with Streep.

Yet despite the chemistry of the cast and Demme’s penchant for music, the story seemed a bit forced and the ending to saccharine sweet for my taste. The daughter’s issues aren’t really explored at all—she just has them, per her father’s phone call. I can’t but show my Missouri upbringing: show me, don’t just tell me. After Ricki’s time with her daughter is up and she goes back to her band, nothing much happens for a bit. Then she’s off to the wedding. The two main obstacles for our erstwhile rock & roll heroine to overcome lacked a strong connection, and neither child really put much of a fight. The family jam to bring the wedding and the film to a close was just plain schmaltz. Streep can’t be a hero without making the sacrifice, and she doesn’t every really face that choice. She gets her family back in order, improves her own relationship with Greg, and still rocks out at the bar. I can believe that science can resurrect dinosaurs and create super-heroic mutations and save a lot of people but I have a hard time believing in happy endings.

There are certainly better films by both Streep and Demme, but it’s not a horrible way to spend a chick flick. The music is pretty good and just because I don’t care for a happy ending doesn’t mean you can’t.  Trust me; it’s ten times more entertaining than FANTASTIC FOUR. 

2.5 / 5.0