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Family Movie Review: Ricki and the Flash (PG-13)

RickiAndTheFlash ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13         Length: 102 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film is about an absentee mother trying to reconnect with her children, so there is some drinking, cursing and crass jokes, some jokes and discussion about sex, some drug use (parents smoke marijuana with their adult daughter) and the discussion of an off-screen suicide attempt, and some adults kissing in a bed on a couple of occasions.

An examination of the simultaneous opportunities provided and limitations imposed by parenthood, ‘Ricki and the Flash’ features another great performance from Meryl Streep and some poignant thoughts about family. Solid option for parents and teens.

By Roxana Hadadi

What do parents owe children, and what do children owe parents? That’s fundamentally the question of “Ricki and the Flash,” a film that stars Meryl Streep as an aging aspiring rocker trying to reconnect with her adult children after years of estrangement. The question isn’t an easy one, but the film navigates it poignantly and pointedly to a satisfying conclusion.

A good choice for parents and teens as a way to discuss each other’s hopes, aspirations, and ambitions both inside and outside of the family structure, “Ricki and the Flash” focuses on Ricki (Streep, of “Into the Woods”), a middle-aged woman who years ago left her husband and three children in Indianapolis to follow her music dreams. She never made it big; by day, she’s a check-out cashier at a Whole Foods stand-in where people spend more money than she makes per paycheck on their groceries, and by night she’s leader of Ricki and the Flash, the house band at an aging townie bar.

The performances are solid and she’s a winner with the small-but-exuberant crowd, but the relationship she’s having with bandmate Greg (former musician Rick Springfield) is fraught with tension, and she’s probably filing for bankruptcy soon. And out of nowhere, her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline, of “My Old Lady”) calls with news that their daughter Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) has been left by her husband, and is despondent and depressed. Will Ricki please come help?

So off to Indianapolis she goes, to Pete’s palatial mansion where he lives with the wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), who mothered his children after Ricki’s absence, to where Julie doesn’t want to see her, to where her family stubbornly and resentfully calls her by her birth name Linda instead of her chosen name Ricki. Old wounds are still fresh, particularly for Linda’s other children Josh (Sebastian Stan, of “Ant-Man”) and Adam (Nick Westrate), and although Pete tries to keep the peace between everyone, it’s clear that something is broken between them. Whether it’s fixable, and what Ricki has to do to fix it, then becomes the question of “Ricki and the Flash.”

A lot of family dramas go the same way, but from the beginning “Ricki and the Flash” subverts that expected narrative by focusing instead on the rhythms of relationships: the push-pull between Greg and Ricki, who is hesitant to admit her love; the easy camaraderie between Ricki and Pete, the years between them turning active anger into bemused acceptance; the natural maternal instincts that Ricki shows toward Julie, even though her daughter is, rightfully, acerbic and skeptical. The pairings and interactions all feel rightly and appropriately lived-in, and the jokes about everyone’s shortcomings have a zing that only comes from family members who know each other too well.

And it’s not like Ricki is particularly straightforward on her own—a rocker who voted for George W. Bush twice, who actively struggles singing songs by pop stars like Lady Gaga and Pink but knows she has to for the younger demographic—but the film makes her real. Streep delivers another great performance, and expect to tear up during her cover of U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Streep captures so much about her character in such little time, and if there’s a thesis statement to “Ricki and the Flash,” that performance is it.

Ultimately “Ricki and the Flash” works because it’s a film about Ricki, yes, but also how she shaped her ex-husband, children, and boyfriend and how they shaped her, how everyone is a reflection of their inner selves and what others expect from them and see them to be. That’s complicated emotional stuff, but “Ricki and the Flash” makes it simultaneously affecting, empathetic, and fun.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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