Film Review: Ricki and the Flash (USA, 2015)

Usually when imagining a career in rock n’ roll and a band called “Ricki And The Flash” you wouldn’t imagine it to involve a handful of old timers in a shabby Californian bar with a 60 something year old lead lady whose only ever record produced is stored in her ex-husband’s rubbermaid. And yet, this is the protagonist of Ricki And The Flash. Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and written by Diablo Cody (Juno), three time Academy Award Winner Meryl Streep takes on the role of Ricki Rendazzo, a charismatic rocker chick with a trail blaze of ruin burning behind her. The trailblaze in this case takes the form of her ex-family who she left 20 odd years ago.

Luckily enough for Ricki her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) has his head screwed on properly and raised their three now adult kids in a huge house, with a full fridge, a lovely poodle and an “other mother” who makes the best french toast and also the best coffee. And so when Ricki is asked over to help comfort her distraught daughter Julie (played by Mamie Gammer, Streep’s actual daughter), who has just been left by her husband, Ricki realises the conventional, comfortable life and family she left behind. And so, not used to these creature comforts, Ricki gets a bit too comfy during her stay, playing house and pretending that she is “mum” which leads to a confrontation from all three of her kids and to the rude awakening that she is actually despised by them.

Usually at this beat of a film a character would proceed to chuck a 180 and start righting their wrongs and begin to make an effort to change themselves, cue “carpe diem, it’s never too late” and all that jazz. However unlike director Jonathan Demme’s 2008 film Rachel Getting Married where the protagonist has the opportunity to indeed right wrongs, Riki’s wrongs are too far in the past and there is no time to turn things around. This is an interesting bump in the narrative because it forces her to front up to herself. This is seen when she sings the revealing line “it takes a cold one to know one” to Pete and Julie.

Ricki is cynical, rude, sarcastic and never has any money. She resents her job at Whole Foods, refuses to acknowledge her relationship with the lead guitarist of the Flash and is noncommittal, quickly avoiding responsibility. With all this under her crazy 80s belt you would imagine her to be an unlikable character, however Meryl Streep’s performance and Demme’s direction undermine such an unlikable character by juxtaposing it with such likeable, vanilla and publicly correct characters. You like her for scoffing down donuts, her rude remarks, for prancing around the house in a bathrobe, for belting out tunes in the bar and for sticking it up to her manager. Without realising you begin to forgive her for not knowing how to work voicemail and for messing up again and again, just because she is such fun to have around. Ultimately though, it takes more than fun to have a family and Ricki And The Flash explores sacrifice, acceptance and the redemption of a family that has been served a “cold one”.

Full of heartwarming tunes, hilarious one liners and with ample opportunity to oggle at Meryl Streep as she once again completely owns a character, Ricki And The Flash is a quirky, albeit a predictable film that is relatable and fun to sing along to.

Film Review: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Ricki and the Flash is in cinemas now.