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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ricki and the Flash 2015 * * Stars

Ricki and the FlashDirector: Jonathan Demme
Year: 2015
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * Stars
Cast: Meryl Streep, Rick Springfield, Kevin Kline

In 2015's Ricki and the Flash (my latest review), Meryl Streep plays an aging, sixty-year old rocker. I know it's a stretch but let's face it, she's incapable of giving a bad performance. And while I'm certain that no Academy Award nomination will arise for her (I could be wrong), "Flash" is harmless and lightweight, with moments that drag (sometimes this film feels like a boring, extended rock concert), moments that are tender (the ending while inconclusive, is perky), and plenty of plot threads (Streep's character connects with her messed up daughter, Streep's character has a moment of clarity with her ex-husband, Streep's character beds the lead guitarist in her band, etc.). Director Jonathan Demme fills his screen with well established personalities, he projects some out of the box casting (real-life rock star Rick Springfield, Charlotte Rae, and Meryl's real-life daughter), and his storytelling sensibilities are adequate. But do we really care what happens to everybody considering that their conflicts are rather minuscule? Not really. And although Streep is likable playing Ricky Randazzo (her stage name), she gives off the stoner vibe half the time. Uh and honestly, could we as an audience, sympathize with someone who abandons their family, moves to California (from middle America), and never really makes it to rock-'n'-roll glory? I think it would be difficult to care but hey, let the music play on.

Featuring tunes from the film's fictional cover band (The Flash) that channel the songbooks of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Lady Gaga (ugh), Ricki and the Flash tries to deepen your musical stenography yet doesn't seem to veer deep enough. The story chronicles braided, leather-clad singer Linda (Streep). She used to be married to a wealthy businessman in Pete (Kevin Kline). Now she's on her own, gigging at a dive bar in L.A. She's got an earnest boyfriend (Rick Springfield as Greg), one album that bombed a while ago, and now has to fly back to Indiana's state capital to comfort her estranged daughter who has been dumped after a short marriage (Mamie Gummer as Julie). Her other two cubs (one is happily gay and the other is getting married) are also alienated from her. Finally, she has to deal with her ex's current wife who feels that Linda (or Ricki) has missed out on all of the children's childhood happenings.

Absent mommy time and missed birthdays/holidays aside, "Flash" wants us to believe that Ricki actually married Kline's Pete but that seems so forgone. One of them lives in a tight mansion (common in the city of Indianapolis) while the other needs her daughter's ex-husband's credit card to procreate a total makeover (hair, nails, shampoo treatment you name it). Total bullocks!

In retrospect, I attended a screening of "Flash" and a friend of mine (in the audience) chatted me up about what a chameleon Streep is as an actress. She can be made to look older or younger. She can play anything from a cancer-stricken southerner (like in August: Osage County) to a conservative therapist (like in 2005's Prime) to a sexy divorcee (2009's It's Complicated). But what baffles me is why her Ricki here is made to be such a louse. This is a woman who takes home a four hundred dollar paycheck, works at a supermarket, and is filing for bankruptcy. What's the point in honoring her plight? Oh and let's not forget who's responsible for the inception of Ricki and the Flash. You have two Academy Award winners (Jonathan Demme and Diablo Cody) on board and this can't be their latest, unequivocal Waterloo, can't it? Cody, who's a brilliant screenwriter (as exhibited in 2007's Juno), litters the proceedings with family dysfunction cliches and garbled dialogue robbing Rick Springfield from distributing any sense of acting chops ("it's not their job for your kids to love you, it's your job to love them", huh?). It appears she's on holiday (look for a cameo of this Lemont, Illinois native dancing freely to The Flash's jams). As for Demme, well he's a music aficionado (from what I've heard) so I'll give him a sympathy pass. But honestly, with his signature camerawork (lots of zoom shots), his shtick looks out of place and there's a sense that he just might be on holiday as well. Together they collaborate on something that's not necessarily uneven, just more akin to a late night rental. My rating: 2 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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