Ricki and the Flash

Posted on August 6, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Copyright 2015 Walden
Copyright 2015 Walden

“Aren’t you allowed to have two dreams?”

The person asking the question is Ricki (as she is now known), played by Meryl Streep. She has just accused her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), of not supporting her dream of playing rock music. And he has responded, “I thought we were your dream.” Years ago, Ricki was a suburban housewife named Linda, with a husband and three young children. She left them to be a rocker, and now fronts a cover band called Ricki and the Flash, performing at night for a small group of loyal fans at a bar in Tarzana, California. During the day, she is a cashier for a warehouse store. Neither job pays well; she is about to declare bankruptcy.

But first she has to go home. Her daughter Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) is having a breakdown because her husband is in love with someone else. Pete’s wife is away, caring for her ailing father. So Pete calls Ricki and asks her to come home and help him take care of Julie. She arrives, with her guitar and dressed in 70’s rocker drag, at his gracious gated community and enters Pete’s grand and elegant home, where everything seems effortlessly comfortable. And where Ricki, with her stringy braids and kohl-rimmed eyes and tattoo is very out of place.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”) gives Ricki some unexpected characteristics and of course Streep brings her to life. Linda/Ricki loves to perform and loves the look and shock-the-bourgeois attitude of a rock musician, even at her other job. But she is not the stereotype anarchist/liberal. The tattoo on her back is a proudly waving American flag and she calls out “Support the troops!” from the stage. We learn a little bit more about where that comes from in one of the movie’s highlights, when Pete’s second wife, played with depth, heart, and resolve by Broadway star Audra McDonald, returns home and the two women have a conversation about what is best for Julie. It is couched in the kind of “we don’t have to like each other but we need to get along” terms of two very different women who share the experience of having been married to the same man and, in their own ways, mothering his children.

Streep clearly loves being back with her “Sophie’s Choice” co-star, and she and Kline create a palpable sense of history with each other in some touching moments, especially when they join forces to confront Julie’s ex. And it is a joy to see Steep and Gummer together. Their trust and connection is so solid that it gives them both the freedom to make their relationship complicated and painful, wanting so much from one another, and still wanting to give to one another, too.
Rick Springfield (yes, that Rick Springfield) is excellent as lead guitar of The Flash and sometime boyfriend for Ricki.

The film is awkwardly constructed, and the ending, while sweet, is abrupt and unrealistic. It makes sense for the storyline that Ricki is not a great singer or musician, with a dozen cover songs on the soundtrack, director Jonathan Demme’s commitment to using the live performances without any studio sweetening is questionable. But the musical performances are joyous, tender-hearted and true. And it explores essential questions: How do we love the people who cannot love us back the way we want them to? What do you do when your dreams do not fit together? What will you give up for someone you love?

Parents should know that this movie includes tense and unhappy family confrontations, discussion of a suicide attempt, strong language, drinking, marijuana, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: Can you have two dreams? How does Pete feel about Ricki? How can you tell? Why does Ricki hurt Greg?

If you like this, try: “The Rocker” and “Juno” and see Streep and Kline together in “Sophie’s Choice”

Related Tags:


Drama Family Issues
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik