A Meryl Streep Power Ballad: RICKI AND THE FLASH Film Review

By at September 10, 2015 | 11:02 pm | Print

4 / 5 stars

Ricki and the Flash Asian Movie PosterThere’s nothing too original about the broken and misguided relationships in Ricki and the Flash. But the depth of experience rippling through the film yields something that feels so fresh, so naturally exciting that cliché isn’t just avoided, it’s often ignored. I’m not just talking about Meryl Streep’s approach to the role of an older, failed rock singer; much of the greatness in Ricki and the Flash comes from the choices made by director Jonathan Demme, in his take on Diablo Cody’s sparkling screenplay.

Where other filmmakers would choose a close-up, Demme opts for a medium shot. When you expect camera focus on one actor, Demme keys in on the other. In a world of veteran directors who zig, Demme is a zagger and his actors seem to know it, letting loose emotionally, knowing they’ll get the uninterrupted room to do so.

Streep, of course, knows exactly what to do here. It sounds ridiculously obvious to talk about Meryl Streep disappearing into a role, but her immersion into cover-band leader Ricki Randazzo is as full – and important – as the work Streep did in the early 1980s, when she established herself as the leading acting master. Ricki (the stage name her character won’t let go) has a supermarket job, a wealthy ex-husband (Kevin Kline) and grown children, all of which she keeps at an emotional or physical distance. When her daughter suffers a marriage breakup and mental breakdown, Ricki rolls back into the family mix, a one-bedroom broad in a mansion world.

Even without the spot-on hair and wardrobe, Streep slips into a woman we’ve never seen from her before. She’s the Bud Light version of the champagne mom she plays in Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated; in fact, it’s natural to compare the two movies, both starring Streep as divorced moms with grown kids. And it only serves to illuminate the artifice in Meyers’ sparkly Hollywood comedy and the emotional sincerity in Demme’s film.

For all the notable moments Streep gives Ricki and the Flash – and there are a couple beauties with co-star Rick Springfield – the world’s greatest living actor is actually upstaged a few times. By her real-life daughter.

Mamie Gummer and Meryl Streep in Ricki and the FlashMamie Gummer, as the jilted daughter, barrels onto the screen in her first scene with Streep, boasting an angry, lunatic energy that gives the film some serious teeth. And Gummer’s hungry performance rarely lets up – it varies in intensity and mood (just like Mom), but its power is consistent. It’s really tough not to focus on her entirely when she’s onscreen, and you miss her when she’s not.

As for the music, hey, Ricki and the Flash are a cover band. They get paid to the play the hits, and you’ll hear ‘em. A veteran of concert films and music videos (from Stop Making Sense to Neil Young: Heart of Gold), Demme shows you entire songs, no cheap cuts and clips. This, of course, requires Demme to make things happen on stage and in the club, to keep the story moving with the music as both complement and catalyst. Sure, we’ve seen music performance in narrative films before. But, like the rest of Ricki and the Flash, not usually this well done.

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