Take a Drink: whenever Streep says/does something salty
Take a Drink: whenever Rick Springfield moons over Streep
Take a Drink: for Mamie Gummer truth bombs
Take a Drink: for Diablo Codyisms (pop culture refs! hamburger jokes!)
Do a Shot: for political talk
Do a Shot: White People Dancing
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
How is it that Meryl Streep tops the list of potential “Greatest Living Actresses” even though she’s been acting in almost exclusively mediocre films that she’s “better than” for nearly fifteen years? Seriously, name a single film she’s been in that you would characterize as “great” on its own terms, or even “good” if you removed her from it. Seriously, take a gander on Imdb. I’m seeing… Adaptation in 2002.
You’re right, there is one. From 2008.
Ricki and The Flash keeps that streak alive, as Streep is the centerpiece of the tale of a rocker who never really made it, returning to the family she left behind in the attempt. There’ll be laughter, tears, and Bruce Springsteen tunes, plus obligatory old people weed jokes.
Anyway, that’s the movie the trailers sold us. Thankfully, and damn surprisingly, just about none of the scenes in those trailers play out as presented, mostly thanks to the script by Juno (not really relevant) and Young Adult (much more so) scribe Diablo Cody. The dialogue is sharp and funny and there is an interesting quirkiness to the writing that I wasn’t anticipating, amplified by another full-body inhabitation of a character from Streep. At this point it’s old hat seeing her uniquely flesh out a person using every tool in her repertoire, but it’s never anything less than entirely impressive. Real-life daughter Mamie Gummer gives her a run for her money, though, standing toe to toe with Mom and holding her own, which would qualify as a breakout performance for just about anyone. The fact that the always underutilized Audra McDonald arguably bests Streep in a face to face confrontation is the icing on the actor’s showcase cake.
Also, Rick Springfield- pretty damn good. Really.
On the filmmaking side, Demme shoots the music scenes with energy, as well the director of Stop Making Sense and Neil Young: Heart of Gold should, and more interestingly keeps his music entirely diagetic. There is no soundtrack, with instead a focus towards naturalistic, immersive sound design that is used to great effect in contrasting Ricki and her much more well off estranged family’s opposite worlds.
And yet… Ricki and The Flash falls squarely in that mediocre Meryl Streep showcase wheelhouse I mentioned in the introduction. The beginning in particular makes you fear that it’s something truly bad, as it seesaws between observant and detailed character moments and shriekingly broad family drama sequences. It does smooth out significantly later, though, and in the end builds to a surprisingly effective emotional crescendo, provided you don’t think about it too much (how the hell did the band get there?).
Now, I’m not going to call this one of Cody’s best scripts (you know exactly the generic direction it’s going in from minute one, especially if you’ve seen the trailer, plus she certainly lets the actors bear the burden of character building), but it is a better script than Demme’s uninterested-feeling direction. Way back in his Handle With Care days he might have been able to negotiate the blue collar/Yuppie class divide comedy better, but now it comes off pretty damn thin, probably because he clearly identifies way more with the Yuppies.
I wouldn’t call his movies lately 1 percenter exactly, but they can’t be much more than 10 percenters.
Ultimately, the film’s biggest weakness is how Demme’s understated direction and Cody’s in your face script don’t really meld. Even when Cody’s trying to be down to earth, her scripts have a heightened feel to them that demand a little stylization in the Jason Reitman mold. Here, though, Demme plays it straight, leading to some cringe-worthy tonal mismatches. Honestly, why Cody would bring her scripts to anybody but Reitman these days is beyond me.
Yeah, nobody’s going to remember this when discussing the storied careers of Meryl Streep, Diablo Cody, Jonathan Demme, or even Kevin Kline a few years down the line. Fuck it, though- just get up and dance anyway.