Thursday, August 6, 2015

'Ricki and the Flash' never pans out

Yes, that aging rocker is Meryl Streep..
Ricki and the Flash, a movie starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker who never made it to the big time, brims with unintended distractions -- at least for me.

Streep brings credible touches to everything she does, but I couldn't quite forget that I was watching Streep not the character she's playing -- a lead singer named Ricki Rendazzo.

Is that Streep doing her own singing? (Yes)

Did she decide that Ricki always should look as if she's having a bad-hair day. (No idea).

Because Ricki and the Flash also is a mother/daughter story, it's a bit distracting to know that the daughter in the movie is played by Mamie Gummer, Streep's real-life daughter.

In addition to all of that, Jonathan Demme -- who lately seems to have spent a lot of time on music documentaries (Neil Young is a Demme favorite) -- has made a fictional feature that, at times, feels like a wannabe concert film .

Demme devotes a fair amount of time to Ricki and her band's musical numbers, most of them set in a Los Angeles bar where a graying crowd seems to be trying to cling to memories of its boogie-down youth.

Ricki and the Flash come across as a competent bar band. That may be realistic, but it undermines any reason for the movie's extended musical sequences.

Without ever finding an entirely appropriate tone, Demme tries to mix family drama, comedy and music. The approach doesn't add up to much.

The family drama begins when Streep's Ricki (formerly Linda Brummell) is asked to return to Indianapolis by her former husband, a straight-arrow businessman played by Kevin Kline.

Ricki's daughter (Gummer) is in the midst of a crisis because her husband has left her for another woman.

It's not clear why Kline's Pete Brummell thinks Mom may be able to help her aggressively bitter daughter: Mom hasn't really been part of her children's lives (there are two grown sons, as well) since leaving for LA to pursue her musical dreams.

Dad long ago remarried. For her part, Ricki has an unstable relationship with the guitar player (Rick Springfield) in her band, the Flash. He likes her, but she never lets down her guard.

To add to the family drama, Ricki's son Josh (Sebastian Stan) is about to marry a woman (Halley Gates) whose family doesn't approve of Ricki's lifestyle: musician by night, supermarket cashier by day.

Another son (Nick Westrate) from the Pete and Ricki union is gay, a fact Diablo Cody's screenplay treats as a reveal, although you can see it coming from miles away.

Not surprisingly, Ricki's visit to Indianapolis founders: She eventually finds herself in conflict with Dad's second wife (Audra McDonald), the woman who did most of the heavy lifting when it came to raising the Brummell kids.

A pot-fueled scene in which Kline and Streep strain to show what might have brought Ricki and Pete together in the first place feels awkward, a wan attempt by the actors to get at something meaningful.

Come to think of it: That might describe the entire movie.

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