Streep Rocks In Ricki And The Flash
Years ago, Ricki Rendazzo left home to pursue her rock and roll dreams. Those dreams took her to a point where she works two jobs and is still nearly broke.
Ricki isn't the typical struggling musician, though. When she left, she left a husband and three children in the process. A phone call brings her back to them in Ricki And The Flash. Ricki (Meryl Streep) keeps getting calls from a phone number she doesn't recognize. The caller turns out to be her ex-husband, Pete Bromell (Kevin Kline). After several attempts by Pete, Ricki finally calls him. He has tried to reach her because their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer) had attempted suicide over her husband leaving her. She is keeping to herself in Pete's home. Ricki books a flight to Indianapolis, where her family still thinks of her (very seldomly) as Linda Bromell. When Ricki arrives, Julie leaves her room for the first time in weeks. The reunion is anything but happy, but Julie's emergence from solitude pleases Pete. In time, Ricki convinces Julie to make herself presentable to the world.
At a family dinner at a local restaurant, Linda catches up with her sons. One son, Josh (Sebastian Stan), is engaged to marry Emily (Hailey Gates). The other son, Adam (Nick Westrate), has come out as a gay man. Like Julie, neither of the sons especially care to renew acquaintances with their mother, and Emily looks at Linda as though a freak were at their table. Pete sits quietly during most of the evening. He's provided well for his children as a successful businessman, and is married to Maureen (Audra McDonald), who's checking on her ailing father in Seattle. When his condition stabilizes, she comes home, and has some words with Linda. With Julie functioning again, Linda uses that talk to return to California to rock by night and work as a grocery store cashier by day. The visit, though, affects Ricki in her relationship with with her partner and lead guitarist, Greg Sandoval (Rick Springfield), though their spat won't break up the band. Maureen, though, wants some reconciliation with Linda, and sends her an invitiation to Josh's wedding. She'd like to go, but wonders how she can afford a trip back to Indiana.
Ricki And The Flash delves into familiar territory for both director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Demme presented a heartbreaking depiction of family dysfunction in Rachel Getting Married. In that film, Anne Hathaway played the sister of the title character, still dealing with a mistake she made years earlier that cost her little brother his life, and led to the divorce of their parents. In Young Adult, written by Cody, Charlize Theron played a writer dealing with a creative crisis as she stands at odds over moving on from the young adult fiction that she has successfully written. Ricki And The Flash is safer and tamer than these other films, but still engaging. Ricki comes to Julie's aid at Pete's request, and has to deal, as Linda, with the hurt she has caused her estranged family. As she comes to a new understanding of her biological family, she finds she still has a connection to them through her music. Little of the material she performs is original, but she does respectable covers of songs that make people happy and help everyone to heal a little bit. There was a little more gawking at Ricki throughout the film than I expected, but I suppose that gawking helped to emphasize the difference between the working class Ricki and her well-to-do flesh and blood.
Streep shows viewers how easy she makes it seem for her to get into character. I read she learned how to play guitar to play Ricki, and she convincingly shows she knows how to handle one. Streep also shows that both motherhood and Linda never completely left her, in spite of little contact over the years with the family she virtually abandoned. Her presence at the Bromell home has some unexpected results for all of them. She steps right back into being a mother to Julie, and at least cares about the well being of the other Bromells. Ricki is a free spirit who continues to pay a price for wanting that freedom. This is Streep's first film with Kline since they starred in Spohie's Choice in 1982, though Kline has a quiet, but dignified, supporting performance as Pete, a man who stands by the women who have meant so much to him. McDonald has the best supporting performance as Maureen, who has made sure the family Pete brought into the marriage with him get the attention they deserve. She also lets Ricki know why she heard about the family over the years. Streep's real-life daughter Gummer does a nice job as the damaged Julie, as does Springfield as the patient and understanding Greg. The members of The Flash have actual musical credentials. Springfield had hits with songs like Jessie's Girl and Don't Talk To Strangers. Keyboardist Bernie Worrell performed the same function for the Talking Heads in their concert film, Stop Making Sense (also directed by Demme). Drummer Joe Vitale and bassist Rick Rosas (who died before this film's release), also have a long list of music credits.
Ricki Rendazzo pays a high price for the life she chooses. She works in the daytime, and rocks in the nighttime. Her career consists of precisely one album, and her ex and their children have, for the most part, fared well without the woman they still call Linda. Ricki And The Flash brings an uneasy reunion, and a reminder their family will likely never be the way any of them envisioned. They'll never likely be the way they were, but at least they won't be the way they had been.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Ricki And The Flash three stars. "Long live rock" - Pete Townshend