Friday, August 7, 2015

Ricki and the Flash [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (2 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (M. Macina) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

Ricki and the Flash [2015] (directed by Jonathan Demme, screenplay Diablo Cody) has some very well drawn, well acted characters.

The film's lead character, Laura (stage name Ricki) (played by Meryl Streep), who left her far more buttoned-up / conventional (and it turns out far more financially successful) husband Pete (played by Kevin Kline) and their kids to pursue a career in Rock and ... ended up 15 years later playing as "the house band" playing covers of other people's music at a random bar in the San Fernando Valley (Tarzana, California maybe 10-15 miles from the clubs on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, but it could just as well been on Mars...) is a revelation.  In my line of work (as a parish priest...), I've known / worked with Rickis, even "musician Rickis" (this film came out on the weekend of our parish's annual Annunciata Fest that even features a lot of bands very similar to "Ricky and the Flash" ;-).  Indeed, there are moments in the film that I found jaw-droppingly poignant -- about a person that's both so flawed and yet also so sincere / perfect and  _ever_ partly / largely _aware of both_.  Wow ...

There's then Ricki's 20-something daughter Julie (played by Mammie Gummer) who grew-up hating her mom for having abandoned her along with her brothers Adam (played by Nick Westrate) and Josh (played by Sebastian Stan), but, having been dumped by _her_ husband after a very brief marriage was finding herself in a crisis of her own and discovering (partly to her own initial horror) that she had both more of her mom in her than she had realized AND MOM MAY NOT HAVE BEEN ENTIRELY THAT "STUPID" / "INCOMPETENT" / "TERRIBLE" AFTER ALL ...

Then there's Ricki's husband Pete's second wife Maureen (played perfectly by Audra McDonald).  Maureen, A NURSE, is exactly as _responsible_ a person as Laura/Ricki proved irresponsible, hence the almost PERFECT "second spouse" (An excellent recent Irish movie offering a similar dynamic of juxtaposing a terribly irresponsible first spouse and a super-responsible second one was Gold! [2014], though in that cases the juxtaposed first and second spouses were the husbands to a still 30-something Irish woman just trying to do the best for her kid and find some happiness as well).  In the current film, Maureen's become everything that Laura/Ricki was not and had, in fact, achieved the love / appreciation of Pete-and-Laura/Ricki's kids in a way that certainly Laura/Ricki did not (but honestly, neither did Pete).  Has Maureen become a "kind/gentle" EVER "saying the right things" USURPER?  Or was she simply EXACTLY WHAT THE FAMILY NEEDED after the breakup of Laura/Ricki and Pete?

Finally, there's Ricki's lead guitarist Greg (played reasonably well by ACTUAL 1980s-90s era POP STAR Rick Springfield [IMDb] I cut him some acting slack because he's been above all an A-ish-list pop musician rather than an A-list Hollywood actor).  He too has made relationship mistakes, but he too, like Laura / Ricki, "loved the music" above all and hence understood her in a way that none of the others, not even her family, could.

So there're some very well drawn characters here, why not such great reviews?  I personally found Pete and his family to have become WAY MORE FINANCIALLY SUCCESSFUL than necessary or even appropriate to effectively tell the story.   I think that the story would have been far better served if he had been made an accountant, perhaps a restaurant owner or something like that.  As portrayed, Pete had become SO RICH (doing some straight laced but certainly lucrative work -- was he a banker, was he a lawyer?) that I simply found it hard to believe that the two -- Pete and Laura/Ricki -- would have EVER met / seriously fallen in love and produced a family of three kids together before having so radically gone their separate ways.  The film provided no explanation and that proved an insurmountable problem for me.

Then this is a Hollywood film that thus had to "end well."  But Linda/Ricki's world and that of the husband/family that she met are SOOO far apart (and they needent have been so), that it's hard to see how it could work out, and CERTAINLY NOT in the stupidly cheap way (after creating sooo many well drawn characters) that it does in the film.

So there it is.  There are some very well drawn, even unforgetable, characters in this film ... which are then plunged into a story that doesn't altogether make sense.  And it's a shame, because many of the characters in this movie (and the actors/actresses playing them) deserved better.

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