Review: Ricki and the Flash


I heard a lot of happy people chatting after Monday night's preview of Ricki and the Flash. "Oh, that Meryl Streep is wonderful!" "She's such a great singer, too!" "It was so funny! And the ending was just perfect!" Someone noticed me standing there and asked if I liked it. "I've got to write about it in the morning, so I'm still thinking it over," I said.

What I meant was, "I thought it was sporadically entertaining horseshit, but I see you're happy right now and I don't want to sour your good mood."

Ricki and the Flash stars Meryl Steep and Kevin Kline, who worked together in Sophie's Choice and A Prairie Home Companion. Rick Springfield (True Detective, General Hospital) costars as the boyfriend of Streep's character, and Mamie Gummer – Streep's real-life daughter – plays her estranged daughter onscreen. The film is directed by Jonathan Demme (Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense) from a screenplay by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult).

So much talent! How can it be horseshit? Be patient. We'll get to the equine doodle right after the plot description.

Ricki Rendazzo (Streep) is the stage name for Linda Brummell, the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for a cover band called the Flash. She plays rock oldies alongside her boyfriend/band mate Greg (Springfield) in some Tarzana bar. FYI: The band includes recently passed Neil Young collaborator Rick Rosas on bass, and Parliament/Funkadelic legend Bernie Worrell on keyboards.

The movie opens with the band playing a tepid version of Tom Petty's "American Girl." Streep looks rather unconvincing in rock-singer-drag. She's a conservative, taking uninspired potshots onstage at Obama, then apologizing to the brown-skinned keyboardist. Racism? Or is the keyboardist the only Obama fan in the group?

Then Ricki gets a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kline). Seems their daughter Julie (Gummer) has come unglued following the dissolution of her marriage. Pete sends a plane ticket to his perpetually broke ex, and Ricki flies from California to Pete's mansion in Indianapolis, which is presented as an enclave for progressive, upscale living. NOTE: The scenes set in Indianapolis were filmed elsewhere and look nothing like the Indianapolis I know.

Everybody is still mad at Ricki/Linda for ditching them long ago to pursue her rock star dreams. Julie, recovering from a recent suicide attempt, won't even get dressed and her youngest son, Adam (Nick Westrate) is angry because Mom didn't accept his gayness. Her older son, Josh (Sebastian Stan) acts nice, but he and his eco-anal fiancee (Hailey Gates) don't plan to invite her to their wedding. When Pete's current wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), returns home, she is polite, but things soon take a hostile turn.

Cody's screenplay is packed with fights and reconciliations, and snappy one-liners fly all over the place. But the characters are so underwritten that the dialogue carries no weight. Some scenes with Ricki and Julie pay off, but I suspect that has more to do with their real life mother-daughter relationship than anything in the script.

I need to say a few words about the closing segment. SPOILER ALERT! REALLY! I'M GOING THERE! YOU'VE BEEN WARNED! The aforementioned wedding takes place at the end of the movie and Ricki gets an invitation. Her boyfriend sells his guitar so she can fly back to Indiana. At the wedding, everybody is cringing just imagining the many ways Mom might screw up the day. Even Ricki is worried! So how does Diablo Cody wrap up her story of a family trying to mend? She has Ricki "honor" her son and his new wife by taking the stage to perform a loud Springsteen tune ... with the Flash, all flown to Indianapolis by the boyfriend (boy, that must have been a valuable guitar!), emerging to replace the house band ... for a few tunes at a wedding! With her behavior, Ricki shows that she has learned nothing! Nothing! But everybody ends up dancing and forgiving, because it's the end of the movie and Diablo Cody is lazy.

Horseshit. Pure horseshit.

Opening: Thursday, in wide-release

Rated: PG-13

More from Ed Johnson-Ott: Review of Infinitely Polar Bear 


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.