Cover bands are what capture the heart and soul of families.
Ricki Randazzo (Meryl Streep) is the lead singer/writer in her tacky cover band hailing from Tarzana. While it’s not a huge, big-time paying-gig by any means necessary, it’s one that makes Ricki happy enough to where she feels like she’s doing something with her life, living the dream, and at the same time, still having fun, as well. But one day, Ricki gets the call that her estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) is going a bit coo-coo. Because her husband left her for another gal, she’s been left a hot mess, which is why Ricki gets the call to sort of save the day and talk her back down to reality. However, while all of this is occurring, she’s also getting back in-synch with the rest of her family that includes her stuck-up ex-husband (Kevin Kline), her one son Joshua (Sebastian Stan) who is actually set out to get married, and another son named Adam (Nick Westrate), who just so happens to be gay, something that cool, hip, and with-it Ricki, surprisingly isn’t all that about. While on this trip, Ricki realizes the family she left behind to make something of her music career, but also focus on those who mean a lot to her as well.
But still, no matter how heavy or serious things get, Ricki always finds a way to rock out with her side-braid out.
There’s something about the Ricki and the Flash that I want to hate, but for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to actually do said hating. Everything about it screams “wacky, quirky, but overly earnest family dramedy”, and the fact that it’s written by Diablo Cody is more than enough reason to make me shudder even more. Granted, I really enjoyed Juno and Young Adult, but a lot of her other material can tend to feel as if she’s just going through the motions of introducing cloying, almost annoying characters, giving us something small to relate to them with, and at the end, even despite all the dead-pan and one-liners, everybody still loves one another and wants to give each other hugs.
And a lot of Ricki and the Flash is like that, however, it’s the kind of big, gooey, warm hugs that may turn you off at first, but once you realize that the hug is fine and well-intentioned, then you decide to give in. And guess what? When you give in, all of a sudden, the hug becomes one of the coziest, most lovely feelings in the world that you almost never want to let go.
Ricki and the Flash is said hug and it’s why I’m shocked as to why so many people seem to be against it. For one, it seems like a lot of people have an issue with it being conventional and cliche, but really, there’s something more to this movie than that. Cody and director Jonathan Demme know and understand that a story like this is more than enough reason to despise white people till the end of time, but they also realize that there can be some actual heart and humanity within these white characters and their first world problems. Even though everybody may be upset and ticked-off that their not getting enough hugs and kisses before they go to bed, there’s still a feeling that said hugs and kisses mean a lot to them and for that reason, it’s hard to hate on them for that.
After all, what Cody does best with these characters is give us a reason to genuinely care about them and their said happiness.
At the beginning, Ricki seems like the type of washed-out, hip, older-women that may think she’s along with the times, but in actuality, really isn’t. Early on in the movie after we hear her rockin’ out to “American Girl” (which is pretty ironic, considering that this is a Jonathan Demme movie), she takes a few awkward jabs at Obama, then leads right into Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, saying something along the lines of, “we’re told that we have to play something new for the younger folks out there”, and seeming as if she, along with the rest of the band, don’t want to play it and are absolutely bored out of their minds that they have to, in some form, conform to this teener-bopper pop that they call “art”. Though this may be quite early on and seem like a small detail, this means a lot in showing us just who this character is; the time’s are flyin’ by here, and while Ricki may not be willing or able to accept that, she’s still trying her hardest to get with it.
Every other character has this same sort of small detail that makes them stand-out among the millions of other similar characters (in Diablo Cody films no less).
Kline’s ex-husband character may seem like a boring square who loves his money, his mansion, and his perfectly-knotted ties, but really, also likes to have a good time and is just trying to keep everything civil and sweet for this small, but meaningful family engagement; Mamie Gummer’s Julie may be depressed and despise her mom for walking out on her some time ago, but also still really loves her and knows that all of this heartbreak and pain is just temporary and it will, eventually, get better; Stan’s Joshua may be the typical “son who doesn’t want his mother to know he’s getting married”-character, but eventually, shows his true colors in that he does want her to know and come, he just doesn’t want to feel that sadness when she doesn’t show up because of, well, a gig or something; Westrate’s Adam may also hate his mom because of the abandonment he felt and her opposition to his liberal views, but really, seems to only be made at her because she hasn’t been there to sit down and chat with him about who he is and why; Audra McDonald’s Maureen (Kline’s character’s new wife), may initially come-off like an intimidating hell of a woman, but also, after a bit of backstory, we realize that she was, always and forever, there for children who weren’t hers to begin with and will continue to be there, no matter what; and Rick Springfield, believe it or not, is actually the true MVP of this film as Ricki’s main co-band-leader who has been with her through the thick and thin, genuinely loves and cares for her, and if anything, just wants her to wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that he’s the one she needs in her life at this point in time.
Sure, most of you may be wondering why I’ve put so much thought and attention to describing the characters of Ricki and the Flash, but I feel like that’s the only way you can go about making sense of why this movie works so well. Cody and Demme both set up each and every character as predictable as can be, but eventually, once the wheel start to turn and you see where it’s going, we realize that they’re doing more and flipping the script every so often. It may not be the big shocks that get you, but it’s the small ones that, surprisingly, work the most effective and stick with you long after the final note has been ripped.
Consensus: Despite the obvious and predictable story-line, there’s a lot about Ricki and the Flash that may initially seem like convention, but due to the heart and love Cody and Demme have for these characters, it gets turned on its side and becomes both affecting, as well as sweet.
8 / 10