Is there anything Meryl Streep can’t do? She seems determined to find out. For “Ricki and the Flash,” in which she plays a never-was rock star still playing bar bands when she’s not bagging groceries, she learned to play guitar and barred director Jonathan Demme from rehearsals until she and her in-film band — which includes Rick Springfield, Bernie Worrell, and the late Rick Rosas — had properly jelled. That washed-up weariness might seem far from Streep’s steel-hard essence, but she’s closer to home when playing the (largely absent) mother to real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, whose nervous breakdown throws Streep’s Ricki and her estranged family back together. Diablo Cody’s script, according to early reviews, feels an awful lot like her underseen “Young Adult,” but Demme, directing his first fiction film in seven years, lets music carry the story whenever he can, effectively blending narrative and concert documentary, as he did with “Rachel Getting Married.” The results, to judge from the first wave of reviews, are fairly lumpy, but after a string of dour dramas, it’s good to see her having a chance to channel joy on screen again. “Ricki and the Flash” opens Friday.
Reviews of “Ricki and the Flash”
Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
Like the cover band at its center, the story of a convention-defying woman’s redemption in the eyes of her family plays to the center in its aim to please. The screenplay by Diablo Cody doesn’t cut as deep as it might, yet its combination of the glib and the bittersweet, as filtered through Demme’s earnest lens, is sure to connect with audiences — especially older viewers eager to see the star mixing it up with her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer, and ’80s poster boy Rick Springfield. But even with its well-observed moments, the movie’s nonmusical interactions, whether reaching for laughs or poignancy, too often feel flat and forced.
Alonso Duralde, the Wrap
There’s an idea for a movie here, about a woman who abandons her husband and kids to pursue her rock and roll dreams, only to come home later for a family crisis; throw in some confrontations and some redemption; and presumably you’ve got a story. What we get from Cody and Demme feels more like an assemblage of almost-characters in an almost-story, resulting in a very disappointing almost-movie.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
The set-up bears a marked similarity to Cody’s screenplay for “Young Adult,” in which another aging basketcase returns to her old haunts and resurrects painful memories. However, “Ricki and the Flash” eventually veers away from the sheer spiteful elements of “Young Adult” and becomes a tamer “Rachel Getting Married,” focusing on familial discord with an almost operatic quality as various awkward exchanges take on more complex manifestations through performance. When “Ricki and the Flash” pierces its conventional trajectory with music, it gets more interesting. But the fluff surrounding it holds together well enough.
Andrew Barker, Variety
Like David Bowie joining Bing Crosby for a medley of Christmas carols, “Ricki and the Flash” combines a number of promising elements that don’t seem to have any business being anywhere near each other, though the disconnect exerts a strange appeal all its own. Offering half an acerbic family dramedy (from screenwriter Diablo Cody, in “Young Adult” mode), and half a Jonathan Demme-directed concert pic that just happens to feature Meryl Streep as the frontwoman, this is a shaggy, easily distractible film that consistently defies expectations to both charming and baffling effect.
Streep’s performance compiles a wealth of impressive actorly attributes without ever really finding a center for the character. She learned to play guitar for the role, sings distinctively, and crafts her own Bonnie Raitt-esque onstage stance, but she’s never really believable as a rock and roll lifer. There’s a lightness, an unblemished sort of effervescence to her that even multimillionaire superstars would struggle to maintain after so many tours and late nights, never mind someone who’s been living hand-to-mouth for decades. She brings plenty of salt, but not nearly enough grit.
John Hazelton, Screen International
Demme (who since 2008’s “Rachel Getting Married” has been making mostly music and theatre performance films) efficiently hits the comedic notes suggested by the clash between Ricki’s free spirit and her family’s smoldering resentment. The film works better, however, when it turns more serious, thanks largely to Streep’s performance and the unusually effective use of music.
Jordan Hoffman, Guardian
There’s a lot of unsettled scores with this family, so the film gives them space to work it out. Some sequences work better than others, but they are all cliched. There’s the sniping at the fancy restaurant, the splurge at the nail salon, the late-night marijuana session. Then Demme puts all his chips in the pot for a big finish at a wedding. But here’s the thing: when you’ve got Meryl Streep in the lead, you can afford to make that bet. There’s a sustained moment during the film’s 20-minute finale that’s as moving as Streep’s rainswept heart-smasher from “The Bridges of Madison County.” Moreover, the movie ends with a triumphant mini-musical with Ricki (and, from the wings, the entire Flash) expressing her love for her family the only way she knows how.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody, both Oscar winners, have made far better films. Still, Ricki raises smart questions about why a mother’s musical ambitions are so much more selfish than, say, seven-time dad Mick Jagger’s, and even the shamelessly corny sing-along finale wrings a few real tears out.
Gregory Ellwood, HitFix
This sort of part may not seem like it’s worthy of a signature “Meryl Streep” performance, but someone forgot to tell that to Streep. The legendary actress just doesn’t know how to sleepwalk through a role like this. She subtly gives the rocker a cloak of pain and insecurity that transforms Ricki into one of the more three-dimensional characters Streep has played in recent years. You’ll believe you’ve met Ricki or someone like her at some point in your life.