Sunday, August 9, 2015

Review: Ricki and the Flash

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures.
If "Ricki and the Flash" has an air of familiarity, it's probably because it was directed by Jonathan Demme, who made the wonderful "Rachel Getting Married," a film that also centered around a wedding, a dysfunctional family member and music. "Ricki" is not nearly as good as "Rachel," but it's a mostly entertaining film all the same, primarily due to that force known as Meryl Streep.

In the film, Streep plays Linda (but takes the stage name Ricki), a woman who gave up her family years before to pursue a career as a rock 'n roll star, although as we find her in the present, she is merely the vocalist of the in-house band at a dive bar and a cashier at Whole Foods. Her on-again, off-again romance with her guitarist (Rick Springfield, suddenly ubiquitous) is the only thing she has going in the way of relationships.

Ricki gets a call from her estranged husband Pete (Kevin Kline, doing a solid job of playing a Mr. Milquetoast), who tells her that their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep's own daughter), has been ditched by her lout of a husband, who has taken up with a younger woman. This, of course, is all in the service of a family reunion story that allows the wayward member to reconnect.

The film is not without its troubles. It's a little unclear why Ricki has turned out the way she has and whether she ever had much to show for in the way of a career. The tense conversation she has with Pete's new wife (Audra McDonald) feels a little forced and the picture's finale, which involves Streep playing at one of her son's weddings, feels a little too neatly wrapped up. And that performance is followed by a series of stares from wedding guests that is a little over-the-top.

Aside from these issues, "Ricki" is a pretty fun movie, mostly due to our being given ample time to watch Streep try her hand at classic rock staples - everything from Bruce Springsteen to Dobie Gray. As always, Streep delivers, which goes a long way to patching up some of the film's script problems. She always brings the A game. The supporting players are solid as well, including Kline, Gummer, McDonald and Springsteen.

Demme is a filmmaker with a diverse resume that includes great character dramas ("Melvin and Howard"), stunning thrillers ("The Silence of the Lambs"), social importance dramas ("Philadelphia"), kooky comedies ("Something Wild") and, of course, "Rachel Getting Married," which perfected the dysfunctional family gathering formula to a science. "Ricki" is not as good as that latter film - not nearly, in fact - but it's an enjoyable experience that enables us to watch very talented people let loose.

Occasionally, Streep's performances overshadow the films in which she stars - for example, her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher was significantly better than the sum total of "The Iron Lady." And her latest is such a case. Even when the film falters a bit, Streep is the driving force that keeps us on board.

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