Movie Review: “Ricki and the Flash”

Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt
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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August


August may officially be part of the summer movie season, but with the exception of a few titles (“Fantastic Four,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), many of the new films being released this month are very un-summer-like. Not that it’s a bad thing, of course, as audiences are likely experiencing blockbuster fatigue at this point in the year, but while there are some promising movies on the schedule, you probably shouldn’t set your expectations too high. After all, in the past five years alone, there have been only a handful that we’d ever want to watch again.

“Fantastic Four”

Who: Miles Teller, Kata Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell
What: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways.
When: August 7th
Why: After going the lighter, more family-friendly route with its first two Fantastic Four movies, Fox has done a complete 180 with this gritty, super-serious reboot from director Josh Trank that surely marks the studio’s last chance to get it right. Unfortunately, that hasn’t shielded the project from the inevitable fanboy criticism, whether it’s the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, or recent rumors of the film’s troubled production. And while the casting debate is a non-starter (not only is Jordan an excellent actor, but he’s a great choice for the role), the latest trailer doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that “Fantastic Four” is going to be any better than its predecessors. Different, yes, but not better.

“Ricki and the Flash”

Who: Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan and Kevin Kline
What: A musician who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom returns home, looking to make things right with her family.
When: August 7th
Why: On paper, “Ricki and the Flash” sounds like a surefire hit. It boasts Oscar-winning talent in the form of star Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody, and is perfectly positioned as a clever piece of counterprogramming to the barrage of superhero movies and action films. What’s not to like, right? As it turns out, an awful lot judging from the trailer. Not only has the whole rock star/estranged parent story been done countless times before, but nothing about the film suggests that it’ll bring anything new to the table, either. Though Streep’s recent trend of turning bad movies into awards contenders (see: “Into the Woods, “August: Osage County”) is certainly impressive, it’s hard to imagine that continuing here.

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