Ricki And The Flash (2015) Review: Rockin' Past Closing Time
Ever since chief Brody blew up Bruce the shark and Luke exploded the Death Star, the summer has been reserved for the less thoughtful productions. This is the time of year where Optimus Prime and company typically mull about with their ongoing cybertronian war. However, every now and then in the summer season, there is a release that counters that market entirely. Essentially, it provides a movie for people who aren’t interested in Ultrons and Indominus Rexes. Minions get released for kids too young to see PG-13 pictures, and films like ‘Hope Springs’ get released for older audiences looking for a story they can relate to.
‘Ricki and the Flash’ falls into that second category and despite being about a 60 something-year-old failed rock star, it surprisingly resonates very well. Meryl Streep plays the titular Ricki, real name Linda Brummel. Ricki is a never has been rock and roll star who plays in dive bars by night and works as a cashier by day. The story opens up on a day in Ricki’s life and follows her until she gets an unwanted call from her ex-husband, played by Kevin Kline. Ricki’s daughter is suffering a crisis, right after her divorce, so bad that her father is willing to call the woman who walked out on them to follow her dream of being a musician for aid. Ricki takes the next flight back home and what ensues is a family dramedy about the less explored archetype of the deadbeat mother.
The tension that follows Ricki’s return is a major strong point in the film. It wouldn’t really work if the character interactions felt forced. Ricki’s daughter Julie, played by real-life Streep child, Mamie Gummer, has a natural anti-chemistry with Ricki. The scenes which involve these two one on one are perhaps the best. Julie will swipe a few curt lines to her mother with every other sentence to shame her for leaving, and Ricki will take it in stride and laugh it off, as people like her are want to do. This is all a part of the healing process of course, which thankfully doesn’t feel forced although it’s not a surprise when certain plot points develop. It’s by no means a film that breaks the mold, and it’s predictability isn’t a knock against it per se, it’s just not high praise either. It does help when the performances across the board are so immersive, especially Streep.
Kevin Kline’s performance was probably second best to Streep’s. Although his role is simply to facilitate the bonding of his ex-wife and daughter, his reactions to Ricki’s frustratingly difficult personality are perfect, just from his face alone. The other members of the family, Julie’s two brothers played by Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate also join in for the most cringe-worthy moments in the film.
These scenes where the family gets re-acclimated with someone who has been so long out of their lives are helped by the dialogue. There are always references made to something that happened in the past but it’s never fully explained, just enough to let the other character in the scene aware of what’s being spoken of. This was an interesting technique as it made the family seem that much more of a real family, as they spoke in a way that was reminiscent of real-world family interactions. As someone who isn’t typically a fan of Diablo Cody’s writing, I was indeed pleasantly surprised.
Because of this technique though, you never really feel the brunt of Ricki’s irresponsible parenting. You get little hints at it but mostly it’s just repeating her character description as a mother who was never there over and over. This is a problem for the scenes in which Ricki lets us in on her side of the story, designed to gain her character sympathy from the audience.
The issue is because we’re not all in to hate Ricki, there is already an idea that Ricki is a little eccentric, but not bad enough to deserve the treatment her family gives her. That being said, the technique works more than it doesn’t. Especially since it gives you the sense of being a fly on the wall to another family’s squabbles and the delightful discomfort that comes from relating to such a scene.
As the film goes along there are scenes devoted to seeing the band, Ricki and the Flash jamming out to covers of popular songs. It’s a joy to see Meryl Streep on the stage with what I believe is her real voice. Of course, these scenes would just feel like additional fluff had Streep’s performance as Ricki not been so skillful. Of all the character’s Streep has portrayed in the past, Ricki might be her most well defined. From the number of rings she has on in every scene, to her tattoo of the American flag with the ‘Don’t tread on me’ snake on it, her character is completely thought out.
The best way to describe her comes from the first song played in the opening scene ‘American Girl’ by Tom Petty. “Well she was an American girl, Raised on promises. She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there, Was a little more to life, somewhere else, after all, it was a great big world, with lots of places to run to”. In a nutshell that is Ricki, a free spirit with a heart of gold who sometimes alienates the people she cares about.
The most surprising thing about this film is the use of point of view shots. There are only a few but essentially, the scenes put you in the place of whichever character at the time and show you just how the situation that the movie puts them in is handled by them. It’s akin to a visual narration in this film The most effective use comes from a scene where Julie is walking down the aisle as a bridesmaid for her brother’s wedding.
Immediately you’re given everything that could go through that character’s head, as she sees an image that clearly would’ve mirrored the moment she walked down the aisle to begin her now dead marriage. It’s also a useful narrative technique that the only two characters to have point of view shots, are Julie and her mother since it’s an overarching theme in the film that, much to Julie’s dismay, she is a lot like her mother.
With films like this, there’s a tendency to not expect too much from it, which is part of its charm. It’s a film that reflects the life of a real family’s issues which, in order to do that, you have to to be relatable. The more outlandish the story and plot development the less easy it is to see ourselves and our own families in the characters. ‘Ricki and the Flash’ gives a look at the story of the deadbeat mom that is not often seen in cinema. That said the film does have a message of sorts as there are a few scenes which affirm the injustice in placing the expectation on a woman to be so naturally supportive and selfless her family when men are expected to have to learn how to do that. All that being said, I enjoyed the movie, and it’s worth going if only to find something to do with your mother for the day. Perhaps it isn’t essential cinema viewing but, if caught on tv or online, the performances and the creativity in which the film was done are enough to leave you satisfied having watched it.
Rating: Catch it on cable