A longer written review is below:
Meryl Streep, or La Streep makes everything better. Ricki and the Flash partners her with Oscar winning writer Diablo Cody and Oscar winning director Jonathan Demme. Add her co-star from Sophie’s Choice Kevin Kline and her own daughter playing her daughter onscreen, and it should be music to our movie-loving ears, right?
Meryl Streep is rock and roller Ricki Rendazzo, an absentee mother venturing back into the fold when her daughter Julie (Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer) becomes suicidal over her marriage breaking up unexpectedly. Kevin Kline, is her straight arrow ex Pete, who has moved on to find a loving wife for himself and devoted mother for his children in Maureen, played by Broadway star Audra McDonald. Ricki tries to set things right, with the help of Flash’s guitarist Greg, portrayed by real-life rocker Rick Springfield, whom she treats horribly onstage despite his love for her.
Cody’s writing, while recognizable in its bluntness and sharp dialogue, suffers here by being shoehorned in between musical numbers, that, however entertaining, take screen time away from the exceptional ensemble of actors, and the further development of their story arcs. Director Demme is known for his music documentaries- (Neil Young: Heart of Gold, The Pretenders: Greatest Hits, Kenny Chesney: Unstaged, Bruce Springsteen: The Complete Video Anthology). He may have wanted to feature famed session musician Rick Rosas, who played bassist Buster in the Flash and passed away shortly after they wrapped filming.
Together, Cody and Streep build and portray a blessedly complicated role for the older yet vital actress, who couldn’t sleepwalk through a film regardless of its issues. However, audiences will find themselves wishing for more scenes between Streep and McDonald, Gummer, and Rick Springfield, even as they hope they’ll look as good in leather pants as Streep and Springfield when they reach their mid sixties. The supporting cast is full of great roles, especially Ben Platt of Pitch Perfect as Ricki’s biggest fan Daniel, a bartender at the dive in which the Flash is the house band.
As exampled by the highly tense interactions in the best two scenes, which i’d call “A Most Dysfunctional Dinner” and “Nurturing Mom Confronts Bio Mom”, the film excels when emotional sparks ignite. The scene between Streep and McDonald where two moms collide unexpectedly offer the best moments in the whole film.
We yearn for more scenes like those. What we get is more music, way too little bite, and a way too tidy ending for anyone who has experienced dysfunction firsthand to swallow. Every moment Ricki is confronted or working out her issues with family and those she is afraid to get close to her, the film soars, and then we are once again back to watching the band play. Streep definitely embodied the “almost but not quite ready for primetime” persona as she performs. She is very good, in fact, almost good enough to be a famous musician, but falls slightly short. What makes that so interesting is those who have heard her perform in a myriad of other movies know she is good enough. It’s her usual fearlessness as a thespian committed to her role that has her choosing to be good, not great.
The biggest disappointment is the glossed over climax and ending of the movie, which is filled with predictable movie tropes and feel-good fixes. If abandonment issues were that easy to fix, the world wouldn’t be so full of therapists. The reduction to sentimentality, however uplifting, would have rung truer and connected more deeply if more groundwork had been laid.
All in all i give Ricki and the Flash a C+—that by no means suggests fans of La Streep and Diablo Cody dramedies should avoid it. There is plenty for them, and lovers of great acting moments, to savor. It’s a mediocre melody made infinitely better by those that playing it.