Meryl Streep’s musical talents are no secret to anyone, and Ricki and the Flash succeeds in putting those talents to good use in a fun and upbeat rock ‘n roll fashion. As one of director Jonathan Demme’s most light-hearted films to date. It’s always clear the direction he wants to move in so the film spends more time being fun and full of music and that’s what make it entertaining to watch.
Linda (Meryl Streep), but better known as Ricki to her band and fans (mostly consisting of a local bar in LA), has always chased her dream. Leaving her husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and three children–Julie (Mamie Gummer), Josh (Sebastian Stan), and Adam (Nick Westrate)–years before, Ricki comes back into their lives after hearing about her daughter’s divorce.
But being estranged for so long from her children doesn’t come without consequences as they quickly show their disdain for her, all while trying to remain polite to keep the peace. But in her own way, Ricki tries to get Julie back on her feet, but is forced to face the reality that her children grew up with another mother figure, Maureen (Audra McDonald), who is blunt to her but not unkind. Facing her faults as a mother head on, Ricki, with the help of rocker boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield), tries to tie up loose ends.
Jonathan Demme has never been a particularly feel-good kind of filmmaker. His films have long been infused with darker elements, foregoing most of the happy stuff for other films to pick up. But that isn’t to say that he isn’t good at it. Demme combines family dramedy with a great soundtrack that’ll have you moving along to the beat fairly well. With a script from Diablo Cody (Juno), the film is less about trying to retain family harmony and more about Ricki’s realization of her own shortcomings and her unwillingness to shrug off her dream regardless of how much of a bad mother she thinks she is. So it doesn’t necessarily play out in the way you might think. There are no sweeping gestures of love between exes or an overabundance of melodrama. The characters are all generally likable and it’s fun to see Mamie Gummer and Meryl Streep onscreen together, as they are real-life mother and daughter.
The film does venture into a bit of darker territory, but only briefly is it touched upon for fear of ruining the general mood. Meryl Streep, as usual, gives a lot to her performance. She’s believable as a rocker who can only express herself through music, although her success has been limited to playing smaller crowds. Her relationship with her family is tense and edged with bitterness on her children’s part, but the film doesn’t linger on it for too long like other family dramedies do. Streep’s character is regretful of past decisions but she is never apologetic for trying to make her musical dreams come true and makes an impassioned speech about the difficulties of being a woman who doesn’t go the traditional route. The rest of the cast (it’s so great to see Kevin Kline!) are pretty solid and although the focus is on Streep’s character, they are all unique in their own way.
Ricki and the Flash isn’t perfect and the ending gets a bit too cliché, but the combination of fantastic music, good performances, and the slightly dark undertones covered up by a feel-goodness the movie has in the end, makes for a fun watch regardless of any issues it might have. With one of the best soundtracks so far this year, the film is entertaining and heart-warming in a lot of ways.