Ricki and the Flash Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
In 2008, director Jonathan Demme made a music-infused drama about a dysfunctional family coming together around a wedding. That movie, Rachel Getting Married, was a messy, exuberant and beautifully acted tribute to family in all its messed-up glory, made all the more effective by its loose, chaotic style. Demme’s new film Ricki and the Flash, only his second narrative feature since 2008, is another music-infused drama about a dysfunctional family coming together around a wedding (and also a divorce), but it’s as inauthentic and uninspired as Rachel Getting Married was genuine and heart-wrenching.
There’s a lot of talent behind this mediocrity, including Oscar winners Demme, screenwriter Diablo Cody and star Meryl Streep, none of them doing even close to their best work. Streep seems to be having fun playing against type as the title character, a onetime Midwestern suburban wife and mother who ditched her family to follow her rock ’n’ roll dreams in LA. Decades later, she’s playing in a bar band for handfuls of people, working the day shift as a grocery clerk and estranged from her three grown children, all of whom live back in Indiana, close to their responsible, well-to-do father (Kevin Kline) and stepmother (Audra McDonald).
The first half of the awkwardly paced movie focuses on Ricki’s efforts to console her daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) after a devastating divorce; later, she returns for the wedding of her son Joshua (Sebastian Stan), with her bandmate/boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) in tow. In both cases, Ricki causes trouble and makes amends equally unconvincingly, and Cody’s script introduces potential sources of conflict only to leave them hanging (Ricki’s surprisingly conservative political views are clumsily highlighted a few times but never amount to anything). For his part, Demme seems more interested in filming full performances of clichéd rock covers by Ricki’s believably mediocre band than in moving the story forward or spending time on character development. The typically sharp Cody writes weak comedy and weaker drama, and Demme stages it like he’d rather be shooting another one of his concert movies. At least Streep, like her character, gets to live out a rock ’n’ roll fantasy.