By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
This year is seeing an interesting pairing of two aging musicians trying to come to terms with the families they left behind. Early in the year saw Danny Collins trying to shed his playboy image while attempting to get to reconnect with his son. In early August, audiences got to see Ricki and The Flash, where the lead singer of this band, Rendazzo (Meryl Streep), finds love with patrons at a juke joint in Tarzana, California but in the real world is attempting to make ends meet. Trying to make it in the entertainment business is tough, and she left a whole family behind in order for her to achieve her dreams. When her daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) completely loses it over a cheating spouse and is informed by her ex-husband, she rushes to Indianapolis to offer some moral guidance. But no one wants her back in their lives. For a good decade and a half, at least, she was never there for them.
Life is tough in this drama that tries to see her make amends with a family than using the music to help everyone reconnect. There are a few tunes which bookends the acts, but they just do not drive the point home. A few could have been chosen to impart a soulful lesson in beware what you want to reap the most. For Rendazzo, she’s a 50-something rocker who does not realize it is time to grow up and accept responsibility. Did she ever have any regrets over leaving her kids only to wind up performing at a dive? There’s not enough story to say if she ever did or not.
The tale could have been better. What’s presented is merely one part of a greater issue that could have gone in-depth if writer Diablo Cody wanted it to. Supposedly, the tale is loosely based on what this scribe saw in real life, with her own mother-in-law as a wannabe performer. Some do manage to keep on humming, working in clubs than concert venues, just enjoying the fact they are part of the local music scene instead of scoring the global recognition. That’s fine, and for Streep, her age and voice suggests that she’s better off transitioning to being a lounge singer and crooning to Jazz than Rock.
Rick Springfield of Jessie’s Girl fame delivers a surprising performance as Rendazzo’s boyfriend. He realizes his mistakes and understands it. This performer’s own life lessons may have come into play and they emerge as more heartfelt. When he tries to tell Ricki what he’s gone through, she does not understand the issues until it’s too late. The film could have placed more emphasis on this, and while it could have dragged the tale down from its heartfelt ending, not everything in life can end with sweet dreams ever after.
To close off this film with the right message is an issue. It won’t find any awards, but in an instant, perhaps the band of real-life musicians who make up The Flash may quickly find a new life. Springfield has been performing the odd role on television ever since he fell off the musical cultural radar of the 80’s. To see him make a comeback may well be this film’s coup d’état. 80’s style music is not necessarily dead.
3 Stars out of 5