Movie Review: “Ricki and the Flash”

Starring
Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt
Director
Jonathan Demme

It’s been seven long years since director Jonathan Demme’s last narrative feature film, “Rachel Getting Married.” Over the course of his career, Demme has captured a variety of human emotions and experiences, whether in his thrillers, dramas or rock concert documentaries, and he returns to the big screen once again with the deeply human, honest and heartfelt film, “Ricki and the Flash,” written by fellow Oscar winner Diablo Cody (“Juno”).

Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) isn’t exactly living her dream. The once-promising musician, now in her 60s, works in a grocery store while also performing at a half-empty bar at night. She hasn’t let failure stop her, though. Ricki still goes on stage giving everything she’s got, even when the rocker has to sing Lady Gaga for the young crowds. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of her relationship with her three kids, who are all grown up and off living their lives without her. But when her daughter, Julie (real-life daughter Mamie Gummer), hits rock bottom after her husband leaves her for another woman, Ricki – who still sports leather pants and no shortage of jewelry – gets a second chance at being a mother by confronting her past mistakes in an attempt to finally be a part of her childrens’ lives.

This all sounds rather familiar, and it is. “Ricki and the Flash” mostly goes where one expects, but it does so with grace. None of the tropes are clichés; they all feel organic to the story Cody is telling, and the story she’s telling is incredibly sweet. Her scripts have always been sincere, whether you’re talking about her overlooked horror-comedy, “Jennifer’s Body,” or her best work to date, “Young Adult,” which has an incredible amount of empathy for a damaged character. Lately, Cody’s stories have gotten even sweeter, and while that tone didn’t quite work in her directorial debut, “Paradise,” it’s tremendously successful here.

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Movie Review: “Last Vegas”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary Steenburgen
Director
Jon Turteltaub

Talk about being acutely aware of one’s demographics. “Last Vegas” takes the easy joke at nearly every opportunity, and it is exactly what makes the movie work. It’s a familiar story line with punched up dialogue (as well as a pair of killer visual gags), delivered by comedy masters. Where action movies are equated with popcorn, “Last Vegas” is comfort food. It’s not terribly good for you, but it sure tastes good.

Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman), and Sam (Kevin Kline) were best buds as kids in the ‘50s. The Flatbush Four, they called themselves. Life took them in various directions, and the latter three are living in a private hell for various reasons (death of a spouse, failing health, and boredom, respectively). One day, Billy calls them and tells them he’s finally getting married to the lovely 30-something Lisa (Brie Blair). The group decides to get together in Las Vegas to send Billy off in style, but old feelings between Paddy and Billy flare up immediately, and are only further complicated when they meet Diana (Mary Steenburgen), a lounge singer who ignites a similar rivalry to the one Billy and Paddy had when they were kids.

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