Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Film: 'Ricki and the Flash'

This won't be to everyone's taste but, despite expectations, I was presently surprised to have enjoyed it.

Ms Streep (yet again!) does her chameleon act yet again - and very effectively too (yet again!)

She's the singer (the 'Ricki' of the title) with a still-performing rock band of yesteryear, the ages of at least three of the back members vying with those of the present-day Rolling Stones. (One of the group died shortly after this film was completed). The other lead singer, and Ricki's lover, is Rick Springfield, he being occasionally publicly put down by her acid remarks on the stage of their small venue.

With the peak of her short-lived fame long since left behind her (she'd made one album), to achieve some kind of regular income she's been reduced to working as check-out assistant in a local supermarket where she's exhorted to be more helpful to customers and to smile more.

Some decades previously Ricki had left her husband (Kevin Kline) and their three children, to pursue her rock career, maintaining only minimal contact with them. He, now re-married, and having brought up her children with his second wife, contacts Ricki to tell how their daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep's real-life offspring), having just experienced a traumatic separation after her own brief marriage, is in a desperate state, acting irrationally and, as is later revealed, has attempted suicide.
Leaving California for Indianapolis to re-unite with her family for her daughter's sake, it's the cue for all the resentments built up over her years of absence to spill out, not just between Kline and Ricki (as well as Kline's 'new' wife), but also between the three children (including a gay son and another son about to be married), but the main action is between Ricki and her daughter.

I must say that my heart sank on the early interchanges between Streep and Gummer as the latter, after her first shouty 'greeting' at Streep, became one of those 'mumblers' I do so detest, when you can hardly make out a single word being uttered, supposedly to reflect her morose moodiness, but most unhelpful to us, the audience. But she did pick up a bit later. Added to that, the band's first song at the film's start was so unattractively loudly delivered (as were some later songs) that I really expected the whole film would be a waste of time. Mercifully, it turned out not to be so. It did significantly improve as I found myself gradually warming to the film.

Whenever the (Republican-supporting) Ricki is present, two-way bitchiness abounds, she herself delivering no less than she gets, though invariably on the back foot trying to defend her lack of family concerns and involvement over the years.

The film ends with the anticipated wedding and reception, Ricki having been invited and accepting after some deliberations on both sides, turning up and meeting and greeting other guests whose reaction to her presence mostly ranges from her being cold-shouldered to utter disdain - and being introduced to, among others, her son's new boyfriend (she making acquaintance through gritted teeth as she'd been hoping he would have found a 'nice girl'). And then, inevitably, I suppose, she and her band close the film by doing some of their 'numbers' and they actually do succeed in carrying the film off on a real 'high', which gave me a totally unexpected glow, which I can still feel even now, the morning after.

Streep learnt guitar especially for this film and she manages to bring off her playing and performing with aplomb. We wouldn't have expected anything less from her. 

Veteran director, Jonathan Demme, coaxes fine performances all round from his cast, and is as good as he usually is. There's very little 'fat' in this film, and it does rub along nicely, the real peaks being the interchanges between Ricki and the members of her family, all fighting to keep a decorum 'lid' on top of their inner seethings and resentments. It's really a small-scale family drama belying its unlikely big-screen presentation.


  1. Gosh, I love La Streep, but this just seemed like a throwaway role that I have opted to wait until it comes to television.

    Sorry Meryl.

    1. Bob, it certainly is a role that she could have walked through and still made interesting enough to stir oneself for. But do look out for it on TV, when I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

  2. Ray,
    Thanks again for the very thorough review. I am another one of there Streep lovers and this film, about a family drama, is one I'm sure I will like. Like you, I am put off by the tendency of some actors to mumble, thinking that is "acting" (which it IS NOT). That's why I have sub-titles whenever I watch these films on my DVR.
    Thank you Ray for another very helpful review of a movie I will see.

    1. You'll surely like this, Ron, containing as it does some of your own special requirements (though not one for Pat, I fear).

      Talking of mumbling, on TV I've taken to putting subtitles on for the news when two or three particular newsreaders are on, who have an irritating tendency to drop their voices whenever there's some tragic or ultra-serious event to report, as though they didn't want anyone else to overhear what they are saying. Maddening!
      But on this film, glad to be of service!