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Ricki and the Flash
The versatile Meryl Streep, who seems to do at least one movie every year and has been in almost every genre imaginable, stars here as the title character of Ricki and the Flash. Ricki's real name is actually Linda but she proclaims that she was actually "born Ricki." She had a rather normal and stable life in Indiana married to Pete (Kevin Kline) with three children, but packed up and left for California to pursue her dream of becoming a rock star. That didn't quite pan out, as she only released one album that nobody bought and now she's the lead singer in "The Flash," the house band at a bar in Tarzana that plays covers of songs everyone knows while also working as a cashier at "Total Foods" to pay the rent at her small apartment. Meanwhile her husband Pete has re-married living rather nicely (it's not made clear exactly what he and his new wife do for money, but they can certainly afford an impressive house) and the family has pretty much forgotten about her.
Of course a story like this exists to reunite her with her estranged family, and that's just what happens: Out of nowhere she gets a call from Pete who explains that their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, who is Streep's real-life daughter although there's no mention of that in the disc's packaging or extras) has just gone through a divorce and has returned home in a hopeless state, locking herself upstairs and not eating. He doesn't know what to do so he figures that maybe Ricki can help her out. Ricki scrapes together enough money to fly out and finds Julie truly looking and feeling like hell and quite resentful of the way she basically walked out of the family years ago. Ricki succeeds in getting her out of her shell though, taking her out for food and a makeover paid for with Julie's husband's credit card which conveniently hasn't been cancelled yet. Over a few days she also reconnects with Pete and their sons Josh (Sebastian Stan) who reluctantly announces his engagement without suggesting she attend the wedding, and Adam (Nick Westrate) who announces that he is gay, both over dinner at a local restaurant. It's not very clear how fast Ricki wears out her welcome until Pete's wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) returns from an out-of-town visit and decides it would be best that she go back to California. Once back, Ricki starts re-assessing her life and decides to open herself up to bandmate Greg's (Rick Springfield) long-time romantic advances. Maureen, in an attempt to make peace with her, also mails her an apology letter and an invitation to son Josh's wedding, but Ricki isn't sure whether she should go.
Written by Diablo Cody, Ricki and the Flash is a bit more down-to-earth than her previous efforts like Juno and Jennifer's Body but it's quite entertaining and brings out fine performances from the cast. Meryl Streep has already sung in a number of other films, but here she also plays guitar which she learned just for this movie. Her character is interesting as there haven't been many stories showing the long-term aftermath of someone's failed attempt at stardom- at least her band is well-liked by the bar's patrons. Rick Springfield gets to play guitar here too but his singing is reduced to backup- his character is far more grounded in reality than in his hilariously awful 1984 starring vehicle Hard to Hold. Kevin Kline seems to act the same here as he does in most of his movies, but nothing wrong with that. "The Flash" also includes Parliament-Funkadelic's Bernie Worrell on keyboards and while most of their songs are cut short in the interest of keeping the story moving, they're able to do a few full songs including a cover of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away". (I personally wouldn't have minded if they'd gone ahead and done full versions of every song played, but there's a reason why I'm not a film editor. Those who pay attention will also appreciate how Streep's daughter transforms throughout the movie- she's an absolute wreck when she first comes onscreen, but looks almost like a different person by the end.
While the hi-def picture is nicely detailed, just as I saw in Sony's 2D Blu-Ray of Pixels there are obvious compression artifacts particularly in dark scenes and visible in the letterbox bars almost throughout the entire movie. I hope this isn't the start of a new trend, as the complete lack of digital artifacts possible on Blu-Ray is one of the format's main advantages over standard DVD not to mention streaming services. The movie itself was shot using digital equipment in 2.35, and looks close to film for the most part.Sound:
Audio is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and keeps most of the sound up front with occasional effects in the rears. The music performances, which according to the disc's extras were done live on-camera with no post-production, sound great like they were really playing in your living room.
An audio description track narrated by Leilani Jones-Wilmore is included along with dubbed tracks in Canadian French, Spanish, Thai and Portuguese and both hearing-impaired and standard English subtitles with subs also in Cantonese, traditional and simplified Chinese, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.
A ten-minute featurette "The Making of Ricki and the Flash" gives a good rundown on the movie's production, with director Jonathan Demme saying that he was given a copy of the script with the option to direct if he liked it and saying that he insisted on all music by the band be played live on camera. A shorter segment titled "Rediscovering Rick Springfield" tells how he was cast in the movie, and there are a few deleted and extended scenes including a complete band performance of "Wooly Bully" that was cut short in the movie, along with a brief still photo gallery. The disc opens with trailers (which suffer from even worse compression than the movie) for Aloha, Pixels, The Walk, The Final Girls, A Brilliant Young Mind and a promo for "Outlander Season 2 Volume 2".
Ricki and the Flash is a good comedic drama about failed dreams, estranged families and making amends, with some good music performances thrown in for good measure. There's been plenty of movies about has-been rock stars, but not so many about never or almost-beens who aren't destined for fame or fortune and need to decide to do after that. I did find this Blu-Ray's encoding to be less than what should be expected from the format (it does still look better than most digital broadcast TV, but is definitely flawed) and hope that studios will be more mindful of this- after all, picture quality is a huge reason for buying Blu-Ray discs.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.