Meryl Streep and Jonathan Demme Fight the Good Fight Against Diablo Cody’s Script in Ricki and the Flash

ricki and the flash

Ricki and the Flash
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Opens August 7

Jonathan Demme’s first straight dramatic feature in several years is something of a companion piece to his jagged-edged 2008 ensemble piece Rachel Getting Married. Both are about familial dysfunction, both include an exuberant scene set at a wedding, and both feature a bona fide movie star (Anne Hathaway in Rachel; Meryl Streep here) doing some self-conscious deglamming. There’s something a bit more Hollywood about Ricki, however—a dramatic patness courtesy of Juno and Young Adult screenwriter Diablo Cody that Demme nonetheless manages to complicate in intriguing ways.

Streep’s Ricki is a boozy failure living in California who works the grocery checkout line by day and plays in a rock-and-roll bar band, The Flash, by night. A quintessential Demme touch: the group is populated by actual musicians like guitarist Rick Springfield (excellent as Ricki’s love interest), frequent Neil Young bassist Rick Rosas and Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell. After a call from her wealthy ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), she returns to her former home of Indianapolis to help her estranged daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s own offspring) cope with a devastating divorce, though her presence causes more havoc than calm.

The trailers for Ricki and the Flash sell the film as a conventional tale of redemption and uplift, when in reality it has much more of an oddball edge. Cody’s script is the weakest element, filled with faux-knotty character details (Ricki acts the rebel but voted for George Bush twice) and trading in a glib abrasiveness that feels like warmed-over Eugene O’Neill. Streep, meanwhile, is technically brilliant and a delight to watch in the numerous musical sequences, though (as is occasionally the case with this chameleonic performer) her character seems too strenuously conceived from the outside-in. There’s some necessary vitality lacking that would make Ricki come off like anything other than a screenwriter’s edgy construct.

Yet Demme’s ever-gracious spirits are in full bloom. Along with his cinematographer Declan Quinn he packs each frame with vibrant details (each of the groupies at Ricki’s shows feel like they have a life all their own). And he cultivates a serene, contemplative rhythm throughout that beautifully offsets Cody’s sketchy dramatic coarseness.

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