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Review: Ricki and the Flash

Meryl Streep stars in "Ricki and The Flash"

When you look at the plot in Ricki and the Flash, it’s clear to see that it has some potential to present an intriguing film. With an absentee mother who essentially chose to chase after her nonexistent music career over staying with her young family years earlier at the center of it, it would be hard not to find something in it that would catch your attention. It also stars Meryl Streep. That’s something that can be seen as an event itself to some people.

Streep stars as Ricki, a singer/guitarist who left her former life behind to fulfill her dream of being a rock star. While that didn’t go as planned, she’s continued to play even if the only gigs she can get are in front of half empty bars. This has been her only existence for a while now, but all that changes when she returns home and has a chance to make things right with the family she grew apart from long ago.

In the beginning, things are set up things nicely, but it doesn’t come close to staying at this solid level for very long. Once they establish who Ricki is and what her life is like, we are never allowed to go any deeper. We’re soon whisked into the lives of her ex-husband and her kids as we’re introduced to what appears to be a family in a terrible situation.

What comes after this is supposed to be the parts where we witness the family troubles come pouring out from all directions as they attempt to deal with the extreme emotional scars that they were left to deal with when Ricki figured it was more important to lead a band rather than be their for her kids. On multiple occasions, we’re told that her kids hate her for that, but that doesn’t really show up after a couple of early scenes.

Once she pops back up out of nowhere, there’s almost no conflict or form of legitimate tension in sight. If you were to build a movie around anything like this, I’d find it hard to believe that anyone in the history of the universe would see this as being believable. There’s going to be anger, grief or some other kind of negative emotion coming from someone that she left behind years ago. Instead, these guys act as if they simply spilled a carton of milk, wiped it up and went to the store to buy another carton.

It’s bad enough that she left you, but to see that she failed miserably at building any sort of music career would probably make you even angrier once she decided to show her face again. That’s what anyone would see as a reasonable reaction in a case like this, and it sounded like that would be the case when we learn that one of her kids doesn’t even invite her to his upcoming wedding, but even that is solved fairly quickly and without even a hint of reluctance.

If you choose to see Ricki and the Flash, you’ll notice that they tiptoe around everything that may be controversial or provide an emotional jolt through the family because they clearly never really try to engage in any of the heavy stuff that they lay out in the initial segments of the film. Maybe this was done to make sure it earned a PG-13 rating or maybe it was something else.

While I can’t say this is true, I’m thinking there’s a possibility that Ricki and the Flash may have been played extremely safe do to the central character is a flawed woman. When you honestly think about it, it’s rare to see women being legitimately vilified in American film. With that being the case, there’s at least a slight chance that the people behind the scenes didn’t want to go in that direction. Obviously, I’m not saying this is true since I wasn’t there when it was being developed, but it’s something that popped in my mind while thinking about it afterward.

The only movie that I can really think of that came out over the last few years where the woman was actually a certifiably villainous character was Gone Girl. Even then, just about all of the other characters in that film refused to see her as anything other than a victim. Maybe that’s why they wouldn’t make Ricki a source of true frustration for her ex-husband and her kids? Maybe the people behind this felt like those people in Gone Girl? Or maybe they felt like the general public were like the people in Gone Girl?

Anyway, this is just a theory of mine that just popped into my head, but it’s something to think about when trying to figure out why these guys decided to be so timid in handling what’s being shown in here. This is supposed to be about a woman who left her family behind and won’t even answer the phone when her ex calls her, but somehow turns into this highly active mother with heroic tendencies once she’s back home. How does that shift in attitude happen so fast?

I would give them credit for making a movie with a female lead playing a character that’s not handled in the usual way, but it kind of sucks that they are so hesitant to go to a place where she can’t be a hero of sorts since she doesn’t truly deserve that and wouldn’t get that distinction in real life. Due to its unwillingness to engage in anything hardcore, Ricki and the Flash fails even though it had all of the elements to find success. If only they would have taken some risks.

Rating: PG-13

Director: Jonathan Demme

Meryl Streep
Mamie Gummer
Rick Springfield
Kevin Kline
Audra McDonald

Film Length: 100 minutes

Release Date: August 7, 2015

Distributor: Tristar Pictures

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