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.