Cole Clay // Film Critic
Diablo Cody has garnered an immense amount of success in her screenwriting career for creating women who go against the grain of “traditional” American values and gender roles. While her flamboyant writing style earned her an Oscar for JUNO, the flare was too overwrought to be grounded in any sort of reality and therefore her work suffered. But, you can’t deny that Cody has talent. With her work in RICKI AND THE FLASH, she has teamed up with two talents: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS director Jonathan Demme and Meryl Streep, who needs no introduction. Their collaboration on this film project may have a lot of schmaltzy character moments that can be rather pedestrian, but the conviction from the talent behind and in front of the camera allow the sugary goodness of RICKI AND THE FLASH to not be burdened by formula.
Ricki Rendazzo (Streep) would normally be classified as a deadbeat for packing up leaving her children and husband Pete (Kevin Kline) for Los Angeles to pursue her dreams as a rock star. But her courage is what kept her going despite a lifetime of regret and the fact that she ended up playing as the house band at a dive bar with her beau/lead guitarist Greg (in an honest portrayal by Rick Springfield).
By design of Cody’s screenplay, Ricki is coaxed back into the lives of her mid-western family, after her only daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) has gone into crazy cat lady mode (complete with matted hair and 3 day old stank breath) after she is left by her husband for another woman. Gummer and Streep have a natural spark together since they are actually mother and daughter.
The strongest credit to the film besides Streep is Demme’s direction. He makes you feel the tension in their relationship as the story develops, even when the going gets tough their dynamic insists on the fact that this pressure is rooted in love. Even if everybody has moved on from Ricki’s absence.
RICKI AND THE FLASH has some semblance to Demme’s film RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. However, the latter takes a stark approach to familial tension, while the former’s frisky tone allows for an easy to please distraction from the heavier issues at hand. Demme knows how to utilize the veteran actors, especially Kline who doesn’t get a chance to illuminate the screen as much as he did in previous decades. While he doesn’t steal the show like I was hoping he would, his nebbish charm strikes the right chord for his character whose work obsessed life has caused his world view to extend just past the confines of his gated community.
Cody brings some perspective to her script that focuses on class struggles as they are in today’s social climate. At one point, Ricki asks Pete to cover her cab fare and then the next she’s astounded to find out that the drinks are free. But Cody’s most poignant moment comes in a speech Rendazzo gives on stage as she recounts that make rock star Mick Jagger has fathered seven kids by four different women. The double standards aren’t fair and it’s easy to see through Streep’s performance that this unjust has plagued her for many years.
RICKI AND THE FLASH forfeits some quality with it’s standard plot contrivances, but with the delightfully simple approach to a family story with thoughtful writing this one will be a deep cut Streep fans will relish.
RICKI AND THE FLASH opens today.