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Ricki and the Flash

D: Jonathan Demme / 101m

Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate, Audra McDonald, Hailey Gates, Ben Platt

Let’s agree to disagree (perhaps): Meryl Streep can sing… sort of. She can carry a tune, certainly, but does she have the voice to be a rock singer? Well, as it turns out, it depends very much on the song (and particularly if it’s Bruce Springsteen’s My Love Will Not Let You Down, where she doesn’t). But thanks to Diablo Cody’s poorly constructed and focus-lite screenplay, maybe that’s the point, because Ricki, Meryl’s aging rock chick character, has been playing at the same bar for years, and has only managed to release one album in all the time she’s been a musician. She’s following her muse, and has sacrificed her family to pursue said muse, but it really seems as if Ricki hasn’t realised that her muse “left the building” ages ago.

On paper, Ricki and the Flash looks appealing and fun. The idea of La Streep strapping on a guitar and rocking out alongside Rick Springfield was no doubt more than enough to get the movie greenlit, and there’s plenty of songs included for Streep to wrap her larynx around, but while these scenes are fun to watch in a straightforward, head-on kind of way, the rest of the movie hangs around them like a groupie who’s only just realising they’re at the wrong gig. (And said groupie is likely to run for the exit as soon as Streep launches into an awkward, grating version of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.)

Ricki and the Flash - scene

What’s confounding about the movie is that it never seems to go anywhere. We’re supposed to believe that Ricki is a long-absent mother who no longer talks to her family – ex-husband Pete (Kline), sons Josh (Stan) and Adam (Westrate), and daughter Julie (Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) – and whose selfish behaviour informs her every decision. But she drops everything when Pete calls to tell her that Julie’s husband has left her and it might be a good idea for Ricki to come and visit. Once she arrives, Julie is antagonistic toward her, as is Adam, though Josh, who is about to get married, is more sympathetic. With the family dynamics now firmly established, Cody’s script resolves each issue in turn with incredible non-credible ease, and does so to ensure that Streep gets to rock out again (and again… and again).

Things wouldn’t have been so bad if the various “issues” weren’t of such a poor standard that even the most desperate of soap operas would pass on them. The dialogue is just as bad, and begs the question is this really a script created by the writer of Juno (2007)? There’s a scene between Ricki and Pete’s second wife, Maureen (McDonald), that contains so many clichés – on both sides – that the viewer could be forgiven for thinking the lines were improvised and the scene was a rehearsal that somehow made it into the final cut, except you’d be convinced they could have come up with dialogue that was a lot, lot better. It’s a childish tit-for-tat exchange that neither actress can do much with, and it sits like an ugly child in the middle of a pretty girls’ photoshoot.

But it’s not just Cody’s banal script that makes it all so frustrating, it’s also Demme’s disinterest, which emanates from the director’s chair in waves. He never so much as comes close to engaging with the material, and scenes go by that are tonally flat and lacking in flair. The material is already less than exhilarating, but Demme’s approach harms the movie further, leaving it feeling like a bland TV movie. It’s left to the cast to try and inject some energy into the proceedings, and Streep is certainly game when called upon to belt out another rock staple, but the likes of Kline, Gummer and Stan aren’t given enough to do to make much of an impression.

Julie (Mamie Gummer) and Ricki (Meryl Streep) in TriStar Pictures' RICKI AND THE FLASH.

In the end the script plumps for an eye-watering feelgood ending that wraps everything up nicely and without properly resolving any of the issues it’s tried to address earlier on, such as emotional abandonment, and robs itself of any dramatic resolution. It all ends with yet another excuse to put Streep behind the mike, and features a wedding party that seems to be made up entirely of professional dancers.

Rating: 4/10 – aimless, pointless, dreary, lifeless, meandering, ill-focused – all these are apt descriptions of Ricki and the Flash, a movie that never provides the viewer with a plausible reason for its existence; Streep somehow manages to hold it all together, but this is still a movie that wastes the talents of its cast, and suffers endlessly thanks to its wayward script and Demme’s absentee direction.