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Ricki and the Flash – Movie Review

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Ricki and the Flash – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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Sometimes looking at the credits gives a good idea of when a movie might rise above its genre and storyline. Ricki and the Flash could have been an overly sentimental family drama that poured syrup more than develop its characters. However, with Jonathan Demme at the helm and the always reliable Diablo Cody writing the screenplay, this becomes a solid film which allows the protagonists to drive the plot and create our investment. The script also allows Meryl Streep to play a character that doesn’t involve putting on an accent for the week or crafting an over-the-top persona. It’s a human story containing the necessary roller coasters that come with life.

Diablo Cody’s screenplay is smart to not dial back the harsher elements of the story, including Ricki’s daughter dealing with a disastrous divorce. When it drops a bombshell early on, this is not done for cheap audience sympathy and rather to develop the characters and work them through the pains of this situation. Yet Cody also knows when to be appropriately subtle, including when examining why the marriage between Ricki and her husband fell apart. We get a sense of why it happened without the need to tell us, but it never turns Kevin Kline’s Pete nor his new wife into antagonists. Ricki is a complicated lead and it’s a character that the film has the tricky task of making sympathetic. How do you get the audience to root for a mother who walked out on her children and rarely looked back? This film succeeds, mainly because everyone is aware of her flaws, including Ricki herself.

Cody’s sense of humour is evident throughout portions of the film with Ricki readjusting to Midwestern life and dealing with the hassle of air travel. She also has some strong camaraderie with Rick Springfield’s Greg, though like the family dynamic, the film does not bottle the pain coming from their pairing. The heart of Ricki and the Flash is ultimately the title protagonist’s relationship with her daughter. The heartbreak, but also the good memories come flooding back upon their reunion and there’s a genuine connection between the two. This could be attributed to Meryl Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer playing the role of her on-screen offspring, but other films with lesser scripts have made members of the same acting family look like complete strangers.

Meryl Streep gives one of her better recent performances, showcasing the subtlety we had come to expect during her classic ‘70s and ‘80s era. She never goes overboard with Ricki’s more flashy eccentricities and her emotional scenes are effectively acted. Streep sings through a good majority of the film and while a couple of the performances could have been cut, she showcases a stronger stage presence in this film than she did in Into the Woods and certainly Mamma Mia. It’s also great to see Streep and Kevin Kline reunite, making one wish they had co-starred in far more films over the years. Mamie Gummer also shows promise in being a solid actress away from her mother’s shadow.

Ricki and the Flash is the sort of smaller studio picture that deserves more attention during the heated and crowded summer months. It tells a solid human story with the necessary quirks that come when extended relatives come together and it’s elevated by a very good script. Meryl Streep has been looked upon lately as an actress who gets nominated for awards for doing anything, but this is a performance that highlights a lot of her strengths. Pairing Streep with Diablo Cody’s dialogue and Jonathan Demme’s direction was a smart move that has resulted in a film with the necessary heart without going overboard. This is certainly a film that will play in rotation on the W Network for years, but it deserves to be seen.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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