by Alan Yudman

Diablo Cody showed such promise. Heck, she even fulfilled it. Winning an Oscar for best screenplay for JUNO. She showed similar talent with the biting YOUNG ADULT. So, if there is anything such as a “paycheck” movie for a screenwriter, RICKI AND THE FLASH fits the bill. Meryl Streep is aging wanna-be rock star Ricki Randazzo. She’s happily playing in a bar band in Tarzana at night and not so happily working at a Whole Foods type store by day. Then she gets a phone call from her ex-husband played by Kevin Kline, that their adult daughter’s husband just left her and she needs her mother. So Ricki (whose real name is Laura) jets back to Indiana to play mom. It’s a role she’s ill-equipped for having left the family when the kids were very young to fulfill her rock ’n’ roll dream. It’s predictably awkward when she arrives at her ex-husband’s mansion, penniless, without even money to pay the cab driver. And that is where the movie kinda fails. It’s very predictable. Not a twist anywhere to be found. Ok, one twist that wasn’t very “twisty” at all. The audience could easily guess what was coming next. Cody telegraphs her punches. There isn’t much of a surprise about anything. If it’s well written that may not be a problem, but this is very pedestrian stuff. Streep gets points for committing to the role. Yes, she can sing. We all know that by know. But she capably belts out rock standards like Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. Rick Springfield continues his career resurgence (see the creepy psychiatrist in season 2 of TRUE DETECTIVE) with a winning performance as Ricki’s love interest and lead guitarist for her band The Flash. Kevin Kline is refreshing as her uptight ex. Hollywood needs more Kevin Kline in movies. Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer plays her fictional daughter. Audra McDonald is wasted in her very small role as Kline’s wife. She has one featured scene with Streep, calling her out as an absentee mom, proclaiming she was there for all the big stuff while “Laura” was off being irresponsible. But again, it’s a fairly standard argument with little to make it interesting. The dialogue isn’t clever and is only mildly funny. It seems to back away from every opportunity to “go for it”. Jonathan Demme’s direction is unnoticeable. Sometimes that’s good. Not in this case. The most authentic part of the movie is the band, Ricki and the Flash. They belt out rock ’n’ roll songs like any bar band would. They’re good, but rough enough around the edges to make it believable that they were never good enough to make it big. RICKI AND THE FLASH is like flat beer at a seedy bar. You’re there, you might as well drink it. It’ll give you a buzz, but you won’t enjoy it much. — Alan Yudman

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