Ricki and the Flash – Pan
By Johnny Memphis
There is nothing worse than a feel-good movie that doesn’t get you there. Take Ricki and the Flash, a piece of Hollywood sausage featuring Meryl Streep hamming it up as two-bit singer who abandons her family to chase her rock and roll dreams and then reunites with everybody at her son’s wedding playing an obscure Springsteen cover. Really? When the screen flashed “The End” I was perplexed at the multiplex. That’s it? That’s the ending to the movie? Everyone dancing joyously like a scene from Beach Blanket Bingo? A movie starring the great Meryl Streep directed by the esteemed Jonathon Demme is this shallow, this manipulative? Granted there are a few funny lines and good scenes, but the movie is riddled with enough contrivances and false notes to sink a battleship.
As the movie starts Ricki and the Flash onstage are rocking out on Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” In preparation for her role, Meryl Streep learned how to play well enough to be a convincing rhythm guitarist and she has the voice and personality to be a real front-woman. The band sounds good, no surprise considering it includes actual musicians like pop heart-throb Rick Springfield on guitar and legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell of P-Funk fame. This opening scene captures some of the combustion and headlong energy that can make playing in a rock and roll band such fun. So far, so good. Not for long.
At the end of the song, the whole audience in this homey, rinky-dink L.A. club goes bonkers with applause, cheering like the war had just ended or Eric Clapton had just played “Layla.” Granted it was a good song played by a good band, but local bar crowds are not that enthusiastic. Not everybody in the bar. Not for a band that obviously plays there on a regular basis. You might get some people loving the song, but there are always people more interested in the ballgame or the cute thing next door or their glass of whiskey. They might look up or even applaud, but they won’t go crazy. As Dana Carvey’s George Bush would say, “Not gonna happen.”
It just felt like Act I, Scene 1 of the outline for the movie- “Band rocks out in bar.” According to screenwriting guides every scene in a movie should change emotional charge, from positive to negative or negative to positive. After this jubilant opener you know it’s time for a bummer. Soon after the song ends Meryl/Rickie makes an awkward, emasculating remark on mike about her boyfriend/guitarist Rick Springfield. Oh well, down the road we go. Even Meryl Streep in blue eye-shadow and a leather jacket can’t save a blue plate special like this turkey. This phony opening scene is just an indication of more ersatz moments to come. I really expected more from the Streep-Demme combo.