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Movie Review: #RickiAndTheFlash

The selfish and boring Ricki and The Flash deserves to be booed off the stage.

Review by Matt Cummings

As a former collector of rare outtakes from a certain Canadian power trio, I saw experience repeating itself with the Meryl Streep/Johnathan Demme sing-along Ricki and The Flash. Back in my 20's I bought Rush rarities because these backstage moments of soundchecks and jam sessions were deemed to be worth something. But just like this film, those rarities remained so for a reason: they weren't worth of airplay, which is the same feeling I got from this absolute bomb.

The plot, which centers around the bar-band singer Ricki (Streep), could have amounted to something. Abandoning her children at a young age to become the next Lita Ford, 20 years later she's stuck in a Central California dive bar, living in squalor and seen by her children (Sebastian Stan among them) and her ex- (Kevin Kline) as a failure. But when her daughter Julie (Mamie Grummer) tries to commit suicide after being dumped by her husband, Ricki flies back to Indianapolis to renew old ties. Along the way, her relationship with guitarist/lover (Rick Springfield) is tested, forcing a re-evaluation of her situation, all while the stage beckons.

While that sounds like a workable and even perfect plot for Streep, there's truly nothing holding up this film except the excellent music, which after awhile began to weigh on my patience. Somewhere in Writer Diablo Cody's script is a story, with the outsider Ricki forced to accept the damage she brought to her family and the way she tries to make amends. But it never coalesces into anything memorable, reflecting a grim reality of both character and film: impressive on stage but a mess at every other moment. I don't even know what the point of Ricki is supposed to be, and even if Director Demme himself called me to explain it, I'm not sure I'd understand it any better.

It's impressive how boring the potential rich subject matter is treated here, and that's the nice way of saying it sucked. There are lost opportunities everywhere to develop something, anything, that resembles character development or grow the basic plot into something that won't get booed off the stage. The nearly invisible bandmates of The Flash (with the exception of the very good Springfield) never get to be funny or even aware that they themselves exist beyond their musicianship. Sebastian Stan is simply shuffled off stage when his 'solo' as the embarrassed son is done, forced to be the happy, but ultimately flat groom.

Contrary to popular belief, the three-time Oscar winning Streep can't make every great, but this time it's entirely her fault that Ricki fails. It's no secret that she can sing her tail off, but this fact is drummed into our heads so often that it actually lessens the impact of the plot, turning it into a glorified concert video. I actually lost count at 15 full performances of classic rock tunes, all performed by her and Springfield. But who cares when it fails to advance the plot or even serves as a reason why the performance is happening. It's a selfish move, both on Demme's part for allowing it and Streep's for encouraging it.

This leads to a pattern of resolution that feels like an episode of Gilmore Girls or Vampire Diaries. Long-time family squabbles end with a single conversation and people's attitudes shift from angry to pleasant in an instant, all with Ricki (and unfortunately Streep) ogling for everyone's attention. Some of that does lead to some decent banter between Streep, Kline, and Springfield but Kline disappears after the first act, as does most of the family. It's as if Editor Wyatt Smith was given an ultimatum: keep the tunes or the story.

Much like its director and the central characters, Ricki and The Flash is 20 years past its prime, except none of them are willing to accept it. Much like the band who's been forced into the local dingy club, this will soon find its way to the discount bin at the local store. If your heart is set on seeing it, pay for the soundtrack, which is truly its best asset; but even that eventually needs to be shown the door. Put it on Netflix when it arrives and you'll be entertained by the music and forget a story ever existed - I know I did.

Ricki and The Flash is rated PG-13 for for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language and has a runtime of 102 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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