‘Ricki and The Flash’

As one of only six Hollywood actors to earn three Academy Awards for acting (including a record 19 Oscar nominations) it feels like we’ve seen Meryl Streep play every character on the big screen over the past 38 years. In “Ricki and The Flash,” however, we find this amazing actress continuing to expand her talents and push outside her comfort zone. 

As an aging 1980s rocker named Ricki Rendazzo, Streep is a self-described non-traditional mother who, after years performing on tour, ends up divorced, no longer in her children’s lives and working two part-time jobs just to make ends meet. Teaming up with her real-life offspring Mamie Gummer for the third time on film, Streep’s Ricki character re-enters the children’s lives when her daughter’s (Gummer) marriage unexpectedly dissolves.  

Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (for 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs”) and Oscar-winning writer Diablo Cody painstakingly illustrate Ricki’s penniless lifestyle and the many difficulties blended families must endure to raise kids. Cody’s screenplay is based upon her mother’s side job as a front singer as Cody grew up. Despite a slow start and heavy-handed display of just how down and out Ricki’s life has become, this movie deserves credit for an open and honest dialogue about divorced families and resentment. It neither dismisses nor sidesteps the anger and pain created by the complicated family dynamics. The end result is an authentic portrayal of relationships and love.

The sensational cast is led by Streep, who sings and plays her guitar to an assortment of musical hits that includes Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Lady Gaga and Pink. A consummate perfectionist, the 66-year-old Streep felt she needed to learn to play the guitar to provide realism to her role and the overall film. Thus, Director Demme and the movie producers patiently halted filming and production to allow Streep to complete an immersion into guitar lessons. Moviegoers with a keen eye will notice 1980’s rocker Rick Springfield playing the lead guitarist and Streep’s love interest in “Ricki and The Flash.” 

Academy Award winner Kevin Kline, better known for his marriage to 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” stunner Phoebe Cates, effortlessly plays Streep’s affable ex-husband to round out an exceptional ensemble. The movie’s most inspiring and eye-catching performances, though, are deservedly found in Streep and her daughter, Gummer. Both own the big screen and make it difficult to take your eyes off of their characters. 

“Ricki and The Flash” succeeds due to its skillful handling of complicated blended families. The superb performances, particularly Streep’s vocals on the microphone, bring a realism to the entire film that can’t be ignored. A slow start picks up its beat around mid-movie for a rousing, emotional end. Although the focus on Ricki’s downtrodden, washed-up rocker past goes on for too long in the film, Streep and Gummer hold this storyline together in tandem. “Ricki and The Flash” offers enjoyment to music fans and unique look at a two new talents from Streep—singing and playing the guitar. Both of which make this film worth seeing.

Grade: B.

(Editor’s Note: Patrick King is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at www.reelbrief.com.  You may email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com)

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