Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars
It would seem that there is a new genre of films coming up in Hollywood. Or perhaps the genre has already been established and it is only now that one is noticing it. The genre, is that of the aging rocker-returning to roots-sorting out long drawn out family issues-attaining nirvana as an individual (or at the very least, redemption).
Just a few months ago, it was the Al Pacnino starrer Danny Collins that was exploring this turf. Now, it is the new Meryl Streep film Ricki and the Flash that goes over this very same ground.
Streep plays Ricki, a wannabe rockstar who leaves her family (husband, two sons and a daughter) in Indianapolis to pursue her musical dreams in LA. Fame comes briefly — she releases a record, presumably not many people buy it and so ends her career.
Years later, she’s working as a cashier at a supermarket by day; by night, she takes to the stage with her band (The Flash) and rocks her heart out at a local dive. She has some loyal fans, bankruptcy papers to file, and plenty of attention from her lead guitarist Greg (Rick Springfield) that she isn’t quite sure how to deal with.
Then there’s a phone call from Indianapolis. It’s her former husband Pete (Kevin Cline), calling to tell Ricki that their daughter is severely depressed after the breakup of her marriage. Pete’s second wife (and the kids’ hands-on step mom) Maureen is away attending to an ailing father, can Ricki come down and get their daughter out of her funk? Ricki reluctantly agrees.
And so there are family reunions that are less than happy (in fact, the majority of them are downright acrimonious), home truths to be faced, old hurts and grievances and guilts to contend with — and even the revival of shared love and care.
Of course, even as happiness is found, it must be lost (or in this case, given up). When Maureen returns home, Ricky realises how superfluous she herself is, and there is a confrontation. It’s a mark of how sympathetic a character Streep makes Ricki that you root for her, when she is in a sense, the actual “interloper” in the situation. You feel her angst at being shut out of her family’s lives.
The film makes a striking point in one scene where a guilt-stricken Ricki has a meltdown on stage while performing a Rolling Stones number. Mick Jagger, she points out, has had seven children by five different women. None of whom he had a major hand in raising, as he was off being a rockstar. But there are no recriminations for him, or indeed for men who neglect their filial responsibilities in pursuit of their careers/ambitions. For women, however, it's a whole other story.
It’s an interesting — and important — point that Streep’s character makes. She follows it up with another exchange with Greg, in which he is attempting to make her see that we don’t have to be the sum total of our mistakes. We can move beyond them. “Why do you love me?” Streep’s Ricki asks Greg, pouring out her insecurities. “I’m old and broke and becoming fat!” Greg gives a helpless shrug, he just loves Ricki, no reasons needed.
It’s a sentiment the audience might echo while watching this film. The narrative may be patchy, but you can’t help sympathise with Ricki, root for her to be happy.
Ricki and the Flash is let down by a schmaltzy, too-pat climax. Most of the final sequence feels almost forced — like the director and the writer had to check certain boxes: 1. Emotional redemption for Ricki and her children, check. 2. Pair everybody off happily with partner, check. 3. Ensure Ricki ‘saves’ the day and gets to be the heroine, check.
Still, this is a chance to see some fine actors — Streep of course, but also Kevin Kline —put in some fine performances. They make Ricki and the Flash something more than a flash in the pan.