Between the three of them, Meryl Streep, director Jonathan Demme, and screenwriter Diablo Cody have 5 Oscars. Yet Ricki and the Flash, the film they’ve made together, is one crushing bore.
To be fair, there was potential in the premise. Streep plays Ricki Randazzo, an ageing rock-and-roller who belts out cover versions of popular 80s hits at a nondescript LA bar with her longtime band of fellow fogies, The Flash. When her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) calls to say that their daughter (Streep’s own daughter Mamie Gummer) is having a meltdown after being dumped by her husband, Ricki heads back home to Indiana to reconnect with the family she abandoned years ago.
Cody, who won an Oscar for her refreshingly original screenplay of Juno, works familiar tropes here and gives us standard-issue conflicts. Predictably there are resentful children to face, and even an awkward encounter with their stepmother. But it’s all resolved way too conveniently – and never quite convincingly – in a climatic wedding scene that’ll leave you rolling your eyes at the sheer laziness of the script.
Mercifully, there’s some pleasure to be had from the amiable performances by the cast, particularly Streep who appears to be having a good time in a role that hardly requires any heavy lifting. Kline is terrific, providing most of the laughs as he tries to keep a straight face despite all the craziness around. Even real-life rocker Rick Springfield, playing Streep’s boyfriend and band-mate, has a charming presence.
Too bad Demme seems more focused on the musical performances, which run way too long, than in the drama between the characters. There’s no depth, no layers whatsoever in what could’ve been a deliciously complex story. As a result, Ricki and the Flash is never satisfying, and feels superficial to say the least. Even the laughs are few and far between. As the film crosses the one-hour mark, you’ll be shifting in your seat impatiently, waiting for it to end.
There are some things even Meryl Streep can’t do. Rescuing this flaccid film is one of them. I’m going with two out of five.