Friday, August 7, 2015

Film review: "Ricki and the Flash" (2015)

Over the past two weeks my expectations for the "performance" of Ricki and the Flash have essentially done a figure-eight. For over a year, based on the description of the screenplay, the film's release date and comments from the cast, I assumed this would be a fun summer flick with potential do make a respectable showing at the box office.  The Devil Wears Prada, Julie & Julia and Hope Springs all came to mind as comparable set ups for Ricki.  After the trailer was released a few months ago, my expectations were unchanged, as the film was depicted as relatively lite fare, with a handful of one-liners that bordered on being cheesy.

A bit over a week ago, as a few people who were privy to early screenings of the film began to tweet reactions, it appeared that the underwhelming trailers were somewhat misleading, and that it may in fact turn out to be a halfway decent film.  Borderline raves for Streep, several "the trailers don't do this film justice" comments.  Could this be become a critical and financial success?!

When the review embargo was lifted a few days ago, the brief high of thinking this movie may be a huge deal began to fade.  Although Meryl continued to get praise, the overall tone seemed to be that yes, the trailers didn't give us a good sense of the actual contents of the story, but that its attempt at complex drama succeeded only intermittently, and that director Jonathan Demme couldn't do enough to improve Diablo Cody's uneven, unbalanced screenplay.

Well, I was able to catch a showing of the film a little earlier than expected.  Joe and I are in Clevelend for his Masters Swimming event, and there was a theater near our hotel with a 7:00 show last night.  I'll start by saying my overall reaction to the film is probably the consensus of what we're reading on Rotten Tomatoes; Streep good to great, the film so-so.  While that may be considered a bit of a pattern in recent years with Meryl's movies, I think my reaction is about the same as what I expected before the first trailer.

The film begins showing Meryl as Linda "Ricki" Randazzo playing with her band The Flash in an almost empty bar in California's San Fernando Valley.  We quickly learn through a few of her comments on stage that she is likely not a registered Democrat, something perhaps unexpected but resfreshing from a Streep character.  Shortly thereafter, Ricki receives a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and learns that her daughter Julie, of course played by Meryl's actual daughter Mamie Gummer, is quite unwell after her husband has left for another woman.  Ricki spends money she doesn't really have to fly out to Indianapolis to be with her daughter.

As she arrives, the family's history begins to peel, and at its core is the event of Ricki's departure decades prior to fulfill her dream to be a rock star in Los Angeles.  Suffice it to say, Pete, Julie and Ricki's two sons are understandably still resentful of her increasingly rare presence in their lives each year.  This is made more clear at an uncomfortable family dinner where Ricki learns her eldest son Josh (played by the dapper Sebastian Stan) hasn't told her about his impending nuptials, nor that he had no intention of inviting her.  True to her conservative views, Ricki also manages to alienate her gay son Adam (Nick Westrate) by not seeming to understand that marriage between two men may actually be important to both him and his friends.

Ricki succeeds at getting Julie pulled together a bit, not without a run-in with Pete's current wife Maureen, played by the luminous Audra McDonald (one of my personal favorite scenes).  Following the scuffle with "Mo", Ricki returns to California with a chip on her shoulder, acknowledging in a bit of a tirade on stage that there is a double standard for men and women who choose to live the life of a "rock star."  This uncharacteristic episode from Ricki brings to a head her relationship with her lead guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield), and the two eventually agree to be "more than friends."



The final chapter of the film sees Ricki and Greg return to Indianapolis, having received an invitation to Josh's wedding as a sort of olive branch from Maureen.  In awkward fashion, Ricki explains in a toast that she has nothing to give but her music, and after a lot of confused and worried looks from the bride, groom and guests, everyone joins the dance floor and surrenders to the music and the moment.

Whew.  That was a lot of exposition.  Ok, I'd overall give the film a B.  Many of the problems reviewers are having I too had with the movie.  I would have preferred to get a bit more background on the events surrounding Ricki leaving her family.  It seemed to jump pretty quickly to her being in Indianapolis, and then before we know it, Maureen is back and Ricki jets back to L.A.  Some of the dialogue is predictable and not necessarily additive.  The overall premise of the story and its characters is smart, but we needed more.  More time, perhaps before Julie seems to no longer be depressed.  More time to see Ricki interact with her sons.  More time observing the almost excruciatingly uncomfortable dynamic between Ricki, Pete and Maureen.

Now to Meryl.  I am no doubt impossibly biased to accurately describe her performance.  She's always stellar to me.  Specifically though, her character of Ricki, the person...kinda sucks.  She's borderline-homophobic and racist, a bit of a leach and left her family to sing in a washed-up bar band all her life.  Sadly immature.  Yet I found myself completely feeling sorry for her.  This is the woman who shouldn't really be getting my sympathy, but when she enters the environment of suburban Indianapolis, with the judgmental glares she receives simply for her clothing, the condescending tone Maureen takes with her every time they speak...I just wanted to give Ricki a hug.  Yes, she's made her choice, but I feel it's possible that her choice was a false one, in that it didn't have to be either-or.  The good or the bad of that I suppose is debatable, it's just the emotion Meryl's performance evoked in me.

I really enjoyed the music.  There were a few times that Meryl seemed a bit stiff with the guitar when comparing her with Rick Spingfield.  Some of her vocals pleasantly surprised me, while others solidified why Ricki never made it beyond the dive bars.  Whether that was by choice from Meryl I suppose we'll never know, but it certainly fit the character.  Springfield was one of my favorite aspects to the film.  His acting was more than acceptable, and he convinced me that his character, while flawed, is a good guy with genuine feelings for Ricki.

This film is absolutely worth seeing.  While at times melodramatic and even a tad cliché, most of us will likely connect with the experience of having some form of family resentment.  Meryl will likely always be the best thing in her films.  If you're already a fan, this performance will simply add to your fondness for her.  Even if you dislike the film, it's impossible to deny her effectiveness at bringing Ricki to bright, believable life.



29 comments:

  1. Dear Jeff, I wanted to thank you for your site from Moscow. Yes, Moscow, Russia! I am a huge Meryl Streep's fan. As I grew more and more impatient about Ricki and the Flash, your site helped me to keep up with news, watch trailers and clips, read reviews, and learn about projects beyond this movie. We'll have to wait until September to see the movie here. I am disappointed by the way it has been received and I think you review summarises well what others have already written. I expected more from the combination of factors: director, writer, actors, but it seems that Diablo Cody got it right only once (I really enjoyed Juno!). I hope the movie will do reasonably well in the box-office and that Meryl will keep working in all sorts of movies. What a career! And I do not care if the movies do not match her talent. In fact, I think that there is no other way. She will always be above her movies... I saw recently one of her failed ones: She-devil! and what a delight it was to see her playing there... By the way I already got RATF soundtrack (yes, itunes works here perfectly well!) . My favourite track is not sung by Meryl, though.... but we are talking about Emmylou Harris here! Still I think that Meryl is just wonderful! All the best. Tom

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    1. Hi Tom! Thank you for your kind words! In thrilled that you find the site helpful for your Meryl needs. And I hope to one day make it to Moscow. One of my top travel destinations!

      Have no fear about Meryl continuing great work. We can likely expect great performances and potentially great films in both Suffragette and Florence Foster Jenkins. Much more to come.

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    2. Thank you too Jeff, here in London we won;t get a glimmer of Ricki til September so it is good to hear your thoughts. I wonder what the hell Meryl read when she made her "..two of the best of my career.." comments last year?! Hopefully Florence and Good House and not Ricki/Masterclass! (Sob, sob).

      Regardless, I knew she would rock.

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    3. I hope so too, Charlie! I'd bet it was The Good House and Ricki, though. I'd imagine that if Good House actually happens we'd hear something within the next month.

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    4. Long Winded PessimistAugust 8, 2015 at 12:19 AM

      I was under the impression that the script wasn't finished yet for The Good House that that's what the hold up with the picture was... I really hope Florence was one of the "best scripts of my career"- because that sounds like it has such great potential already.

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  2. Saw it today.... Felt it was her best work since Prada and Julie and Julia. Ricki is a stunning and heartbreaking character... Loved to see her play someone so unsure of herself. Great addition to the Meryl catalogue and still very much in the award competition... Right now, she is the one to beat and I never bet against her!- Jamie

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    1. Thrilled to know that you enjoyed it, Jamie! I truly don't understand the doom and gloom some have after this picture.

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    2. Long Winded PessimistAugust 8, 2015 at 12:16 AM

      See it's hard for me to understand how fans of Meryl's aren't more upset about this movie. I seriously think this is going to be a box office flop and a total embarrassment for Meryl (I mean the trailers kind of already are) since really to the public it's considered a "Meryl Streep" movie. Every time I see new predictions the numbers are lower and lower- at this point I'd be surprised if it makes back its budget. I just fear that this movie is going to show that Meryl is no longer a box office draw and we won't get anymore big box office type summer movies from her anymore, which is extremely disappointing. I mean we waited years for this one and now I feel like this entire movie is just going to bring down her hard earned reputation. It absolutely baffles me to see our genius Meryl praising a script like this which is mediocre at best. It's almost like she only read her own role (which in my opinion is a bit too underwritten itself). And box office wise, it just seems to be the opposite of the type of movie that her older female fanbase would want to see- its awkward in tone with an unlikable protagonist(I still loved her of course). I feel like Meryl's more casual fans are just completely turned off by this "older rocker" premise and the negative reviews just put the nail in the coffin. Did they all think that Meryl's name alone was really going to be able to overcome all the mediocrity? I mean I really wish that were true but now it just seems humiliating for Meryl that it's being proven that her name isn't enough.
      This is just so disappointing. For so long I thought I was in on a secret that this movie was going to come out of nowhere and blow people's minds like TDWP and now its doing just the opposite.

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    3. OMG !! "Long Winded Pessimist" can you please stop commenting on every post , it's so depressing ...
      I've seen the film twice and I loved Meryl's performance, I thought she did great job with the singing as well.

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    4. I'm not going to censor comments unless they're abusive or derogatory. Long Winded Pessimist, you're right. Meryl Streep will never make another movie. Ricki and the Flash will go down as the worst thing ever put on screen, will only gross $1 at the box office and have a score of 7 on Rotten Tomatoes when all is said and done. Florence Foster Jenkins will be released directly to video. Glenn Close will do The Good House. Don Gummer will lose all sculpting contracts because of the Ricki's poor performance. Winter will come early this year and the sun will cease to give off heat.

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    5. Yes!!��- Jamie

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    6. Long Winded PessimistAugust 8, 2015 at 11:50 PM

      I do apologize Jeff. It was never my intention to bring down the excellent blog you've got going here. I just let my disappointment get the best of me. It upsets to me see any of the rare geared toward adults films underperform critically or a the box office, especially one starring a woman- and even moreso one starring my favorite woman- Meryl. It's just not a great sign for anyone- me, Meryl, or most of all the film industry when practically the only wide release film of the year starring an older woman doesn't do well at the box office. But regardless- I'm sorry for the negativity.

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    7. No worries. I know what it's like to have super high expectations and for it not to pan out the way you want it to when it comes to her work. I consider myself a pessimist too...rather expect the worst than to be crushed by disappointment, right? I've been there. But it really doesn't make us feel any better. It's out of our control. Better to enjoy her, enjoy her work and be pleased when others enjoy it as well. We don't need validation that she's amazing. If we think it...she is.

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  3. Like many others,this site is perfect for Empress Meryl's legion of fans.we in Kuala Lumpur,Malaysia can only watch when it opens in Sept.keep up the good job jeff.we totally echo your biased sentiment in glorifying Empress Meryl.hope one day you and Empress Meryl can visit our beautiful country..

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    1. Welcome to Word on the Streep, Ezra! Would love to make it to Est Asia as some point. So enjoying the international love for Meryl.

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  4. Saw it yesterday and going back tomorrow. I really enjoyed the movie. I agree with you that she is able to make you feel sorry for Ricki because she gets so in the character. I thought Streeps singing was awesome as always. She looked like she was having a lot of fun up there singing. I was also quite impressed with her daughter Mamie. I thought she did an excellent job as well. My only problem with the movie is I thought a bit more time could have been spent with Julie and Ricki having conflict. Again I really enjoyed the movie and look forward to seeing it again.

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  7. I saw the movie and loved it. I love it when she tries new things. Her guitar playing was amazing. I loved how vulnerable Ricki was. I've always admired her for giving her characters a life with weakness and strength. Mamie was awesome. Jeff did you have any favorite moments from the movie.?

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    1. I definitely did. I enjoyed the exchange between Meryl and Audra McDonald. I also love the song Drift Away so really enjoyed the scene after Greg sold his guitar where Ricki discovers he did that and the song seems fitting.

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  8. I agree with you Jeff. Those scenes were good. I also liked when Rcki got her son's weeding invite along with the letter of apology from Audra McDonald.

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  11. 60 percent fresh in rotten tomatoes.... -Jamie

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    1. I saw that as well, Jamie! Obviously that's not an amzing number, but would love if this could stay just above the "fresh" line.

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    2. Me too!- Jamie

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    3. It would be great if this could hang in there and stay "fresh!" Between the bad marketing and the mixed reviews, this one's going to need all the help it can get to up its box office numbers. Sony seems to be a bit too optimistic about the multiple here if you ask me since this isn't exactly getting universally glowing audience reviews either... but maybe it will do well internationally a la Mamma Mia.
      “We’ll be able to add 400-plus,” said Sony president of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer. “It will start to roll out internationally in a few weeks and will play through the fall. Meryl is a worldwide star. There’s no reason that this can’t have a five multiple as we expect it to have strong word-of-mouth and play well into the fall domestically, too.”

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  12. Jeff..have you seen Ricki and The Flash a second time yet? The first time I saw it I was iffy about it. I liked it but knew I needed to see it again. Saw it the second time and I loved it. It is actually a really good movie.

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    1. I have! Saw it again a few days ago and agree that it improved with a second viewing. The first time I saw it I was being rather critical, sort of difficult to just let it sink in. Second time, just enjoyed it, found myself laughing out loud. Really enjoyed Rick Springfield.

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