Screened Out – Ricki and the Flash

By : Stephen Miller
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Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Mamie Gummer, Sebastian Stan, Audra McDonald

Movies and rock songs have a lot in common. They often play on recognizable themes, but they should explore them in new ways. Despite some enjoyable roadhouse rock, Ricki and the Flash doesn’t provide enough variety to its familiar refrains.

Streep portrays another anti-hero (her fifth in a row) – this time a rough-hewn cursing-and-drinking mommy who abandoned hubby Kline and her three kids nearly three decades ago. She moved to LA to become a rock goddess; she didn’t quite make it. Now, broke and working two dead-end jobs, she gets a fateful call from Kline.

Mamie Gummer (Streep's daughter) and Kevin Kline are both strong casting; they would've benefitted from more unique characters.

Mamie Gummer (Streep’s daughter) and Kevin Kline are both strong casting; they would’ve benefitted from more unique characters.

“It’s Julie, our daughter,” he says.

Wouldn’t Streep know who Julie her daughter is? Well, maybe not, since she’s had almost nothing to do with her kids since she fled Indiana.

Julie (Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) was also abandoned after two years of marriage. Now she’s having a breakdown. The only thing Kline can think to do is call the absent Streep for help.

Barely cobbling together cash, Streep’s failure of a parent inexplicably flies back to farm country. Here, she answers to her old name, Linda Brummell, and sticks out like a sore thumb. She’s not incredibly bright, she’s irresponsible, and she resembles Stevie Nicks if the rock star landed on the skids. On top of that, Streep’s Ricki is an angry Tea Party Republican: largely uninformed and prejudiced. What her character greatly lacks is humor, something that would’ve made watching her more enjoyable. She’s a dumb ass when she should’ve been a smart ass.

Still, the flick has pedigree. Ricki is a difficult character to like, but the legendary Streep tries her damnedest and seems to have fun. A solid supporting cast of strong actors and professional musicians surround her.

Jonathan Demme hearkens back to his '80s days directing music documentaries.

Jonathan Demme hearkens back to his ’80s days directing music documentaries.

Jonathan Demme directs. From the Talking Heads doc Stop Making Sense to Silence of the Lambs, there’s no question he’s a good choice for this project. Between him and the cast, it’s easy to see what’s stellar about this flick.

The discord lies in Diablo Cody’s script. She’s usually so much funnier, more original (Juno, Young Adult). She’s also usually better writing fully fleshed-out anti-heroes. Cody’s witty dialogue is almost entirely absent, squashed in between clichés; most scenes aren’t clever; it’s difficult to care for the story; the characters don’t stir enough intrigue or empathy; the movie shifts from drama to comedy and back abruptly.

“It’s not their job to love you,” Streep’s boyfriend Springfield spouts about kids. “It’s your job to love them.”

Not only does this dialogue sound like it belongs on a cheap bumper sticker. It also refers to having children as a “job.” No wonder her kids resent Streep!

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

On top of that, Kline is merely uptight, and his current wife (McDonald) is simply a steel-hearted saint. Despite each having one or two strong scenes, there isn’t enough variety and uniqueness to consider them full-blooded people. Unfortunately the kids – tense or gay or crazy – fare even worse as realistic human beings.

The cast and director try, and that saves a lot of moments. The problems keep this solid film from hitting its highest notes. Streep and Demme often make up for it with some beer-swilling rock. The supporting band members are all seasoned vets So, of course, they nail the movie’s ending with a jukebox full of nifty classic tunes. If the cast, director, and the songs had a better script to build on, this would’ve really rocked!

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