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

ricki and the flash

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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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