Uninspired Musical Story Isn’t Worth Telling in the Inspired-By ‘Ricki and the Flash’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – When I screened “Inside Llewyn Davis” from the Coen Bros. before it was nominated for two Oscars and praised by critics everywhere, I beefed to myself: Who is this musician? Why does his story matter as compared to so many other real musicians who you never hear about but deserve that kind of spotlight?

While it turns out that Llewyn Davis is a fictional character partly inspired by the autobiography of folk singer Dave Van Ronk, in “Ricki and the Flash” we get more of the same but in a more forgettable, inconsistent and predictable way. You’ll wonder once again: Is the “guitar heroine” Ricki Rendazzo a real musician and why does her story warrant a film? Answers: No (but it’s another “inspired by”) and she doesn’t.

While Ricki’s real name in the film is Linda, she’s not a real person and neither is her band. I might actually buy that real-life musician Rick Springfield (known for “Jessie’s Girl”) could tour with and have romantic interest in Meryl Streep, but it turns out that Ricki and the Flash is a fictional cover band – yes, only a cover band! – that only plays in one small bar and at a wedding.

Rick Springfield and Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash
Greg (Rick Springfield) and Ricki (Meryl Streep) in “Ricki and the Flash”.
Image credit: Bob Vergara, Sony Pictures Entertainment

At least Llewyn Davis wrote and performed original music. But now, a film about a mediocre, no-name cover band that goes nowhere is an insulting waste to real-life, struggling musicians everywhere – countless ones of which could have been plucked for this film and would have had much more of an interesting story to tell than this.

Why must TV shows like “American Idol,” “The X Factor,” “America’s Got Talent” and YouTube be the only ones that can discover new musical artists? Why can’t movies?

While Meryl’s Streep’s vocals are fine, nothing she does musically will blow you away and they can’t compare to so many better artists who could have been chosen for this role. And it’s inaccurate to call her a “guitar heroine” without ever hardly being able to hear her guitar playing solo.

Rick Springfield’s character is the guitar star of this band, but if you want to look to a real guitar heroine, look at a real-life rocker, female guitarist and vocalist like Orianthi (who played guitar for Michael Jackson). Or better yet, just listen to real female rockers like Janis Joplin or Joan Jett and skip this film entirely.

Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in Ricki and the Flash
Mamie Gummer (left), Meryl Streep (center) and Kevin Kline in “Ricki and the Flash”.
Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Since she doesn’t have the musical chops to carry this film, it attempts to infuse Ricki’s personal life struggles – including children who hate her, money issues and men problems – along with her lackluster musical life. It’s just not nearly enough to carry a film because the source material is too weak.

While I’m usually very much team Meryl Streep, she’s entirely more enjoyable and interesting to watch singing ABBA’s music in 2008’s campy and mixed-reviewed “Mamma Mia!”. Streep only has a few moments musically and dramatically in this film and that’s not nearly enough to make it worthwhile. As I often feel when I poorly review a film, “Ricki and the Flash” is not led by its lead actor or even its band.

Rather, only a couple supporting actors emerge as interesting and memorable. Kevin Kline does as much as he can with this uninspired inspired-by script. He’s the film’s attempted “good cop” within a dysfunctional family that’s not nearly as fiery as Meryl Streep’s explosive gang in “August: Osage County”.

But the overwhelming star of this yawn for a film is none other than Meryl Streep’s real-life daughter: Mamie Gummer. Playing the role of Julie, her husband gives her the boot and she doesn’t take it well.

Mamie Gummer and Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash
Mamie Gummer (left) and Meryl Streep in “Ricki and the Flash”.
Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment

She’s not sleeping, showering, changing clothes, putting on makeup or washing her hair. She’s bitter about him and even more so about her musically unsuccessful mother who missed most of her childhood. While her character teeters on overdoing the “mean girl” thing, for the most part she’s actually interesting and I always looked forward to the surprisingly bitter thing she’d do next.

These are still cookie-cutter characters, though, and they can’t pick up the slack from Meryl Streep and the film’s writer: Oscar-winning “Juno” writer Diablo Cody. The power of Meryl Streep with Diablo Cody and Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia”) – who supposedly specializes in musical direction – could have made for powerful storytelling. But alas, this trio doesn’t know how to work together.

While “Ricki and the Flash” is supposed to be an “edgy makeover” for a 66-year-old Oscar winner, Meryl Streep as Ricki Rendazzo is inspired – yes, just like “Inside Llewyn Davis” – by a real-life person. This time, the inspiration comes from Diablo Cody’s mother-in-law, Terry Cieri, who most people have never heard of. She’s the frontwoman of the Jersey-based band Silk and Steel and Cody met her while dating her son: actor and producer Daniel Maurio.

Kevin Kline and Mamie Gummer in Ricki and the Flash
Kevin Kline and Mamie Gummer in “Ricki and the Flash”.
Image credit: Bob Vergara, Sony Pictures Entertainment

After Cody took the world by storm with her stripper-turned-screenwriter triumph and won an Oscar for “Juno,” she’s gone downhill since, doesn’t know her voice and she’s throwing darts at a moving target that says “identity crisis” in the middle.

She only knows how to write “strong female stories,” but if you didn’t look it up or know otherwise, you wouldn’t think “Ricki and the Flash” even sounds like or was written by her. That’s what’s so special about what Cody did with “Juno”. While that modern, hipster language became uniquely hers, over the years it’s dissolved away and you can’t “hear” her any more.

I understand that screenwriters and filmmakers like to draw real-life inspiration because they’re always looking for worthy stories in everyday life, but Cody used her influence here to bring alive a character she never should have. Had this not been written by an Oscar-winning writer, a new screenwriter would have better odds to get struck by lightning or win the lottery than sell this entirely unworthy story.

“Ricki and the Flash” stars Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Joe Vitale, Ben Platt, Rick Rosas, Bernie Worrell, Keala Settle and Joe Toutebon from director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody. The film, which has a running time of 102 minutes and opened on Aug. 7, 2015, is rated “PG-13” for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2015 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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