Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Ricki and the Flash
Music is extremely important to Jonathan Demme. This shows time and time again in his wide and varied repertoire. He directed concert films for both the Talking Heads and Neil Young. Music is also vital in bringing his fluid and wondrous film "Something Wild" (1986) to life in all of its glib and savvy freedom.
It remains a pity and a missed opportunity that this earlier feeling of spiritual wilderness and wonder is not found in "Ricki and the Flash" despite the usual likable and earnest efforts of Meryl Streep.
Streep plays Linda Rendazzo aka Ricki, an old rocker a bit in the style of Bonnie Raitt or Ronstadt who (you guessed it) is down on her luck and plays her heart out, night after night in a worn honky-tonk bar for crumbs. Though the plot trappings are out of a Lifetime movie, Streep does have magnetism and an easy charm. While it is a stretch to see her decked out in the jewels of nightshade, and ringed from head to toe, she makes it.
The first frames of the film are greatly and almost magically helped by some swift camera motions and lively song choices. The songs are sung in Streep's actual voice and this is no small thing. The initial segment is full of motion and color in its depiction of motley hijinks with numerous barflies scampering about. Such moments are among the best in the film.
Out of the blue Ricki's ex Peter (Kevin Kline) calls to say that their daughter Julie (Meryl Streep's real life daughter, Mamie Gummer) is in a crisis over a broken marriage. Ricki reluctantly travels to Peter's family to give support.
Fireworks commence, of course.
The problem is not the principal actors. It is just with so much melodrama and heavy hearts, the plot doesn't go anywhere very interesting.
Once more, as in so many family encounter films, we have the absent or lapsed mother wishing she could have made things better, but who was never there when it counted. As if on cue, there are routine shouts, unmade beds and guest rooms with an affectionate dog, no less.
Kevin Kline as the ex hubby, speaks with an elitist mumble as he has in so many other films. They are not convincing as a pair either then or now. He feels soporific and a bit dazed by the role. When he puts his head in Ricki's lap, nearly overcome by her boozy charms, it seems silly rather than poignant, like a bit from his previous Errol Flynn.
In nearly every scene, there is some kind of confrontation or showdown, from Peter and Peter's buoyant wife (Audra McDonald) to her sons, Josh (Sebastian Stan) and Adam (Nick Westrate) to Julie and even Ricki's boyfriend (music star Rick Springfield)
The handwringing drama gets thick and predictable and feels comical, instead of provoking any insights or new thoughts.
The light easeful tone and Ricki's jabbing one liners do have spirit and Ricki does have some chemistry with Springfield, especially during the smooth and excellent music bits.
Yes, Ricki is a damaged lady with a good heart. All right, she laments not being a mother. But aside from these moralizations, what is truly unique about her? We have had nearly identical stories from Cher's "Burlesque" to Pacino's "Danny Collins" and Jeff Bridges "Crazy Heart".
Why not make a film simply about music and the musician without all the soupy drama? There is more than enough thrill in the songs alone and for a director who no doubt cares deeply about the chimerical qualities of the musical arts, we are led to expect more lively fare and not the same old strums.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org