Ricki and the Flash

tn_rickiBefore we get back into the Lucas-Minus-Star-Wars series I wanted to play a little catch up. Here’s one of my favorite movies of last year, and I bet most of you haven’t considered seeing it.

In RICKI AND THE FLASH Meryl Streep (BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY) plays the broke-ass leader of a California bar band who’s on an unlikely mission to Indianapolis to cheer up her daughter Julie (Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer), because her husband left her. One thing is, Ricki abandoned the family years ago to follow her rock and/or roll dream, and they never forgave her for it and rarely talk to her. But Julie’s gotten so bad that her dad Pete (Kevin Kline) gets desperate enough to break that emergency glass. It’s a fish-out-of-water story where the fish has no money and has to stay in your guest room and you don’t want her there but you try to be polite and also you have to pay for her cab.

Ricki is a rare and precious thing, a lead role for an actress – an older actress, even – that gets to be complex and flawed and also funny (not to mention sing and play guitar!). She’s a strong personality and also a mess and possibly racist and hates Obama and also it turns out she knows how to be a good mother and friend. I mean, now she does, but where the hell was she before? Will this cause healing, or only increase resentment? Streep, not surprisingly, goes to town with the role and seems to be having a great time.

Julie is also a really funny character, battering polite society with her aggressive disillusionment and recent abandonment of hygiene. I love the confusion and disappointment of the hairstylists Ricki brings her to as they encourage her to brush her hair. Gummer, by the way, has a good decade-plus of movie and TV roles under her belt, mostly without the aid of her mother. But the uncanny resemblance really helps here. It reminds you that as much as Julie hates to admit it she has alot of her mother in her.

still_rickiI was surprised to turn this on and see that holy shit, Parliament-Funkadelic keyboard master Bernie Worrell is a member of The Flash. I guess it makes sense because it’s directed by Jonathan Demme, who did STOP MAKING SENSE, and Worrell was in the Talking Heads touring band at that time. He actually gets a couple lines and his name in the opening credits, but I think he was mostly there to play (and not really show off, because this bar band wouldn’t have a virtuoso genius in it).

Rick Springfield is also in the band, but he’s there for the acting. His character Greg is a sweet burnout on-again-off-again for Ricki to take for granted. Honestly I’ve never paid enough attention to Springfield over the years that I even recognized him, but I found him convincing as a regular joe rocker and cool old people boyfriend as opposed to a real rock star.

Also I had no idea until looking him up just now that he was Australian.

I know Demme has many fans, but honestly I watched this because it was written by Diablo Cody. I’ve enjoyed most of her stuff, but YOUNG ADULT spoke to me so much I had to get a life time subscription. I think RICKI AND THE FLASH shares alot of the same appeal as YOUNG ADULT, but in a friendlier package. I prefer the meaner version, but I loved this too. When, say, a young person at a wedding offers Ricki a ridiculous “craft cocktail” in a jar Cody may or may not have written the character to be a hipster buffoon, but the scene comes across as a friendly “aren’t young people cute” kind of thing. It’s a nice non-judgmental movie.


It’s less interested in subverting your expectations, more in giving you nice moments of bonding, forgiveness, and understanding. That’s good too. I may have gotten a little that’ll-do-pig at the end. A little the-end-of-ROCKY in the eyes. But it’s not the same kind of ending. I like it when a movie makes you feel the triumph of a relatively small achievement.

Ricki is both better and worse than YOUNG ADULT’s petty, alcoholic, totally relatable protagonist Mavis. Ricki enjoys a drink or a smoke, but she’s not out of control. She has a similar attitude of being cooler than the suburban drones back home, but is not nearly as vicious or open about it. She’s a much nicer person and more of a peacemaker. On the other hand she has done way more damage than Mavis because she left her kids. Mavis goes defiantly unredeemed; Ricki improves her relationships. But Ricki can never undo what she’s screwed up. Mavis still has time.

At one point I was afraid this would turn into one of those “otherwise reasonable person makes unbelievably poor decision” movies when Pete gets nostalgic, has fun smoking a joint with Ricki and then leans in awfully close. But it’s gonna be okay. He’s very good as an uptight, somewhat clueless but still very likable ex-husband dork.

When the new wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) comes home she seems too good to be true, and yet she is: beautiful, kind, a great cook, friendly and welcoming to the intruding weirdo, and then polite and fair when she tells her she should leave now. It would be so easy to make her the character you hate for her aggressive perfection, or to make her kind of a snob toward Ricki. But no, Ricki has to come to terms with the fact that this woman is lovely and correct and the one who actually raised her kids.

I relate to Ricki in many ways: feeling uncomfortable in suburbs and big houses, not always knowing how to be a family person, being used to not having much money until I’m around people who have it, trying to stay proud of my life when being around normal grownups makes me ashamed of it. Most of all I relate to her being cool and good at what she does in a small little world. She’s passionate about what she does and it’s all that makes her happy and it doesn’t matter too much that in the outside world nobody gives a shit about Ricki and the Flash, or understands what she does, or will even call her by that name, since it’s not what’s on her driver’s license.

Her big shot at success is now mostly forgotten, a little embarrassing, one obscure solo LP locked up in Pete’s storage bin. But the dream lives on in one sad bar in Tarzana, where the bartender loves her and the old cowboys and young dive-bar tourists generously sit through her uncomfortable between-song banter as long as she balances the classic rock with the new hits by the young people she doesn’t really get. It would’ve been nice if she became the new Joan Jett or something, but she’s still gonna keep going now that it’s way too late for that. What else would she do?

And I have to say, the depiction of a young woman getting excited for a particular song, standing up and having to convince the guys with her to come up front and dance is dead-on. And the type of sort-of-sarcastic-but-having-fun white people dancing that happens at a wedding. The movie occasionally gets a little broad (like in the scenes of Ricki’s day job at off-brand Whole Foods), but more often it’s these types of observational moments of things I recognize from life but don’t think I’ve seen in a movie before.

Speaking of dancing, there’s a nice part where a scene begins lingering on a close-up of a woman dancing joyously, and before it pulls out enough to show that she’s the one person standing at the front of the stage at the bar, you may notice that it’s Diablo Cody herself. Having fun in a Jonathan Demme movie. That’s a good cameo. She’s kinda like Ricki, she’s gonna have fun doing her thing no matter what some asshole is gonna think about it.

(I’m sure she’s a better parent though.)

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 at 11:44 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Ricki and the Flash”

  1. I tend to highly distrust the indie dramedy genre that Cody is basically the warrior princess of. I go into her movies with a chip on my shoulder, but she always manages to surprise me. Plus, Demme’s always shot musical performance and party scenes better than pretty much anybody, going all the way back to his Roger Corman days, so this sounds like a gem to me. I’ll check it out.

  2. I actually have wanted to see this one. But, that’s mostly because of my childhood crush on Rick Springfield. Several years ago, for my birthday, my friends took me to his concert. I have to say, he was still rocking it. You have to give some respect to a guy who’s playing small, less prestigious venues (names redacted because I think they’re screwing up the spam filter – hint rhymes with Pacino or floats on the oceans) in his advancing years and doesn’t just phone it in.

  3. caruso_stalker217

    January 6th, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    I’ll admit I found the trailer for this to be a little nauseating. It doesn’t help that Meryl Streep might be my least favorite actor of all time. In fact I pretty much loathe her. Your review did not make me want to see this any more than that trailer did, but I found it informative and well-written and I’m glad you enjoyed the film. I just wanted to comment as a sign of my continued love and support of your work.

    Keep striving for excellence, sir.

  4. A few weeks ago at home I overheard my son’s 17 year old girlfriend singing Jessie’s Girl word for goddamn word. She rocked it. I was impressed.

  5. I have to admit that I once dated a guy named Jesse and probably stayed with him longer than I should’ve just so I could be Jessie’s Girl.

  6. Boy, prior to reading this, wild horses could not have dragged me to his movie. But I guess I should have known the combo of Demme+Cody+Streep must have resulted in something more interesting than the sit-commy trailers made it look. But mmaaaan, did those trailers make this look unconscionably precious, full of people saying folksy wise things. If I’m seriously going to entertain the idea of watching this, I need to be convinced that’s blatant false advertising.

  7. Were I privy to information vital to national security, and was taken prisoner by the jihadists or the Chinese or some other fashionably contemporary baddies, and then forced to choose between a waterboarding session and watching this movie…

    I’d think it over and then probably choose waterboarding. “Unconscionably precious” wrote Mr. Subtlety, and damn skippy all signs point to that.

  8. I understand Maggie, I used to wish I could be Meryl’s Boy. I’ve loved her since THE DEER HUNTER. I’m gonna check this RICKI out for sure.

  9. I really liked this one too. Seems that the star on Cody is dying or dead as I never hear anyone really talk her movies other than to bitch about how she’s a successful woman and having unique dialogue and a style is bad.

    I hope that, at least, in the future film scholars will look back at her very distinct voice and great work and remember her for than just Juno. Or she’ll get a bunch of new fans from when that Barbie movie she’s writing get release.

  10. I probably wouldn’t have given this movie a chance, but Vern’s convinced me. And apparently Rick Springfield has been dabbling in acting for a number of years. For a long time, he was a recurring character on the daytime soap opera, General Hospital. I think he played a doctor. For a while there was a plot line where Springfield’s character bore a striking resemblance to some rock star, allowing Springfield to play both characters. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

  11. I’ve always liked Meryl Streep. The media puts her on this pedestal as a Great Thespian, but in interviews she always seems cooler and funnier than that, and she’s had at least a couple good comedy roles.

    So the thought of her in this movie as a burned-out rocker appealed to me. Not the kind of film I would necessarily rush out and see in the theater, but the scales were tipping a little more in that direction than normal.

    I have enjoyed these last few reviews, despite the selfish part of me that secretly thought “Man, somebody really doesn’t want to review TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM.”

  12. Yeah, Rick Springfield’s a pretty good actor these days! After taking a few years off, he popped up in Californication (terrible show) as a parody version of “himself,” like celebrities like to do. But I was amused by how far he took it. He didn’t just do the Simpsons / Curb Your Enthusiasm / Extras-type thing and be comically vein or cheap or pretentious, he was a full-on degenerate.

    Oh, and here’s what he looked like on S2 of True Detective recently:

    This Is Why You Recognized That Creepy Psychiatrist on True Detective

    The second episode of True Detective season two introduced a handful of new characters, but the most memorable of the bunch might have been Dr. Pitlor. The off-putting psychiatrist was questioned by Ani (Rachel McAdams) and Ray (Colin Farrell) as they

  13. I shouldn’t let it bug me but man, I hate headlines like that. It assumes that we thought he looked familiar but were too stupid or lazy to check the credits or the internet. Why is it apparently a successful clickbait method to insult the potential clicker?

  14. So true! There’s been an ugly surge of too-cool headlines, telling readers “[Pointless celebrity trivia] you don’t know but need to” or (the absolute worst) “You’re doing [whatever] wrong”. Just went fishing at HuffPo and found “12 Closet Staples So Practical You Didn’t Think to Buy Them”. Presumptuous fuckers.

    I like-to-love Cody, Demme, Streep, and Kline, but it took this review to get me to queue this film. Thanks for covering it, Vern.

  15. I didn’t even know about Cody’s and Demme’s involvement and for me it seemed like Streep just made a paycheck movie about a Rock ‘n’ Roll mom or something like that. But it was on my list of movies to record and watch once they hit Pay TV anyway.

  16. I saw this recently as well and dug it, too. It makes a really good companion piece to Young Adult for Cody, and Rachel Getting Married on the Demme side. Not as strong as those two, but the vibe is very similar. It’s unfortunate that the trailer for this flick was so hammy because I think it’s turned away a lot of people who would have really enjoyed it. The characters are a lot more real and complex in this movie than you would think based off that trailer. I cared about Ricki and felt conflicted about who she was and how she had lived. Good stuff.

  17. yeah, I saw this one in theaters and thought they ought to make more like it. the Springsteen cover Streep & co do at the end is better than the original.

  18. Yeah, the trailer for this movie made me run in the opposite direction.

    It really appeared that Demme decided to take all the horseshit he successfully avoided in Rachel Getting Married and make a film that consisted of nothing but it.

    And while my left brain can tell myself there’s been terrible movies with great trailers, and great movies with terrible trailers, my right brain was screaming “Run away!” much louder.

  19. The Original Paul

    January 8th, 2016 at 2:27 am

    Jojo – I’m right there with you. When DREDD came out in the cinemas, it took a lot of persuading from the crowd here before I’d give it a shot. The trailer made it look like the worst movie ever. Turned out to be very good indeed.

    As for RICKI AND THE FLASH… let’s just say that the thing Vern’s said that most convinces me is this:

    When, say, a young person at a wedding offers Ricki a ridiculous “craft cocktail” in a jar Cody may or may not have written the character to be a hipster buffoon, but the scene comes across as a friendly “aren’t young people cute” kind of thing. It’s a nice non-judgmental movie.

    “Nice, non-judgemental” sounds a lot closer to JUNO (which I kinda loved) than YOUNG ADULT (which I kinda hated). I’ll give it a try if it comes to the arts cinema any time soon. It’s the kind of thing they play often there.

  20. My wife and I also adored YOUNG ADULT and so we will check this one out based on your recommendation, Vern.

  21. Absolutely loved this one. Found the climax incredibly moving and fully earned.

    Beyond the originality and humor of the writing, the sheer scope of the movies you appreciate and celebrate is really what makes this site so great.

  22. Saw this based off of Vern and Devin Faraci’s recommendation, 2 people you figure wouldn’t be into something like this – and I absolutely loved it. It’s easily my favorite Diablo Cody movie, and probably my favorite Jonathan Demme movie too (yes, I thought this was a better movie than Silence of the Lambs).

    Is it me or did they kind of hide Cody’s involvement? Multiple people I talked to had no idea she wrote this, it’s almost like how alot of people don’t know M. Night Shyamalan did After Earth. But I actually think this is her most fun, accessible script – there’s some great but not-show-offy lines, and it’s surprisingly less indie and more mainstream crowd-pleasing than I expected. Sure it’s a little broad in places but whatever, the broadness and shorthand helps keep things moving along and I’m glad this runs at 100 minutes when I feel every movie these days is at least 20 minutes longer. In a just world this should have been a Meet the Parents-style hit and I hope it catches on on video.

    Note: Vern touches on the movie’s greatest strength (besides Streep’s great performance that should have been nominated for an Oscar or at least a freaking Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy, I mean c’mon) – there really is a strong sense of world-building in this movie where it’s full of things you haven’t quite seen in a movie before, or at least haven’t seen done this way. The aforementioned craft cocktails at the wedding (the most realistic wedding I’ve seen on film, by the way). The cutesie self-help signs in the giant kitchen. The loneliness of eating by yourself in the work breakroom. The first Honda Fit I’ve seen in a movie. The fact that the woman Gummer’s husband left her for doesn’t look any better than Gummer. The world shown here just feels real and lived in and I think it really makes those waterworks at the end feel completely earned.

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