‘Ricki and the Flash’ gives me the blues


Ricki and the Flash (2015)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

6/10  PG-13

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body”) used to be known for being in tune with today’s youth culture. But with her newest effort, “Ricki and the Flash,” she seems to distance herself from it. By writing mostly older characters who are conservative and out of touch, and by using stereotypes instead of characterization (most notably when dealing with characters who are gay or suicidal), Cody offers up an insincere and uncomfortably familiar story that is a disappointment on many levels.

Years after leaving her family to pursue a career in rock n roll with her band The Flash, Ricki (Meryl Streep) gets a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), telling her that their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) is depressed after her cheating husband left her. Ricki flies back from California to Indiana, hoping to be a helpful presence. But she’s confronted with the harsh reality that the abandonment of her kids made a bigger impact than she thought. As she tries to get her life together, including figuring things out with her band’s lead guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield), Ricki will try to mend the relationships she left fractured all those years ago.

Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, and Mamie Gummer in Ricki and the Flash (2015)

Cody’s script is unfunny, unoriginal, and uninspired. It’s a bunch of un. What it’s not is a bunch of fun. In fact, none of the characters are especially likable. Only Ricki has any character arc, and even she doesn’t come across as someone I would want to have a margarita with. She’s poorly written, and the other characters are worse. But Cody isn’t the only Oscar winner to share the blame. Director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”), plus Kline (“A Fish Called Wanda”), and Streep (with 3 Oscars of her own) have nearly foolproof track records. I said nearly. But with “Ricki,” not even this dream team can pull off a win. The hard, rude, conservative Ricki is an unnatural character for Streep, who often shines in Hollywood as the picture of grace, charm, and liberalism. Streep’s gravelly singing voice is the only bright spot in her performance, which fortunately includes quite a few songs. This is where rocker Springfield (we all know the lyrics to “Jessie’s Girl,” right?) helps out, too. He’s every bit the rocker he used to be, and the barroom band’s rock covers (plus one original song) are enjoyable and refreshing. But when Springfield has his attempt at dramatic dialogue, he slips back into his “General Hospital” days and becomes preachy and sappy. Kevin Kline is a little better, giving his best performance in years (which doesn’t say much, given the low-brow roles he’s taken recently). And in a smaller role as Pete’s new wife, Emmy nominee Audra McDonald gives what could be the movie’s best performance.

“Ricki and the Flash” isn’t disappointing only because of its unnaturally high expectations—it’s just plain bad. One has to wonder whether the 37-year-old Cody is already feeling 40, because her apparent disgust with “today” doesn’t seem like the counter-cultural, ultra-liberal former-stripper I thought I knew.

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