Ricki and the Flash is a simple character study. It doesn’t do a whole lot, but it is enjoyable watching Meryl Streep as Ricki navigate an attempt to reconnect with her family.
Ricki is quite the character, a right wing, aging rock star who missed her chance at stardom, but owns the local bar she plays a few times a week. When she gets a call from her ex-husband, Pete, with the news that her daughter, Julie, has just been dumped by her husband, Ricki decides to head out to Indianapolis to try and help with the fallout.
We find that Ricki hasn’t really been around for her kids since they were quite young and what unfolds is a laid back look as Ricki tries to assimilate back into family life; as her appearance stirs up lots of buried feelings in her family. The family Ricki spends the most time with is Pete and Julie, but she also has two boys. Josh is recently engaged to Emily, and they are avoiding telling Ricki, while her other son Adam is gay and Ricki hasn’t really grasped that quite yet. Then there is also Maureen, Pete’s wife and Ricki’s kids’ surrogate mother, who is away when Ricki arrives, allowing her to go a bit unchecked.
That said, the film is devoid of any big drama and instead gives us a fairly realistic look at how something like this might pan out. There is a scene over dinner when the family finally gets together again that writer Diablo Cody just nails. And director Jonathan Demme captures this scene, and the whole film, so naturalistically, you just feel like you are sitting at dinner with them; along for the ride. Cody’s humor shines throughout the scene and the film, and Meryl Streep surprisingly fits right in as a Cody heroine. Ricki is much older than the majority of Cody’s leads, but the role feels more authentic than any one of her other leads. That isn’t to say Cody doesn’t find truth in her characters, but Ricki feels far less stylized than some of her other characters. Streep still brings plenty of humor to the part, but never does the dialogue sound unauthentic coming out of her mouth. I sound like I am taking shots at Cody, but I’ve liked everything of hers she has ever done (never saw her directorial effort). Streep is great when she is behind the mic, and has great comic timing as she bounces off everyone in the cast like the star that she is.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid around Streep, with Kevin Kline giving a great, reserved performance as her ex, Pete. He has a bunch of brilliant little comedic moments throughout, but his reactions when quizzing Ricki about the produce had me rolling. Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real life daughter, stars as Julie, and while she is saddled with most of the big emotions in the film, she mostly pulls it off. Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate and Hailey Gates only get a couple scenes in the film, but they all really shine in the film’s finale, helping sell the emotional thrust of the film. Rick Springfield is also surprisingly solid across from Streep as a fellow band member and possible lover, something I never would have expected. Audra McDonald also kills it in her few scenes, actually out dueling Streep in her character Maureen’s scene of keeping it real with Ricki.
Ricki and the Flash is a solid dramedy from Demme and Cody, even if it doesn’t quite live up to heights of their other independent works. Streep is also great, per usual, and she is thankfully surrounded by a bunch of quality performances. Ricki and the Flash might not be driven by some grand plot, but it hits the emotional beats it’s going for as we reconnect with this family along with Ricki.