Ricki and the Flash
Ricki Rendazzo had her chance.
She could've done the soccer practices and PTA meetings back when she was Linda Brummel. She could've kissed the skinned knees and read the bedtime stories. She could've been a real mother, a real wife.
But while she loved her family, she loved her music more. It tempted her with its earthy melodies, seduced her with dreams of fame. It promised her a world of leather jeans and guitar strings, of concert halls and cheering throngs, of a life ensconced in sandpaper vocals and wall-rattling power chords. She says she never cheated on her husband, Pete, but perhaps that's not altogether true. Every chance she had, she'd step out on him and allow herself to be embraced in her music's sonic arms. And one day, she decided to run away with her tender tunes, forsaking everything else—husband, children, her very name.
Alas, music isn't the most stable of lovers. Ricki chased her dream for years with the single-mindedness of a sleepwalker. And when she woke up, she found herself in Tarzana, Calif. Living in a rundown motel. Working as a grocery clerk. She's practically penniless. Most evenings, she and her band, the Flash, climb onto the stage of the same seedy bar, playing to mostly the same group of fans.
Stardom? Hardly. It's not the musical marriage she'd committed to. Still, outside the occasional Christmas visit or birthday card, Ricki has kept the door shut on her previous life, treating it as something best forgotten.
Until Pete calls her one afternoon and asks her to come to Indianapolis (where he now lives) as fast as she can. His—their—daughter, Julie, just lost her husband to another woman. She hasn't changed her clothes in days. She's seriously depressed, and Pete's second wife, Maureen—the mom Julie's most familiar with—is visiting a sick relative. Pete doesn't think he can handle the crisis on his own.
Just because you reject the role of motherhood doesn't mean you stop being one. And so even though she can barely afford the ticket, Ricki boards a plane to Indiana, her guitar strapped to her back.
"Sometimes a boy just needs his mamma," a bartender tells Ricki. And it's true. Back in the day, Ricki's kids needed her desperately, and she decided to become a rock star instead. No wonder her family treats her like an unwelcome stranger when she returns: She is one.
But while Ricki can't undo the pain she caused in the past, she's determined to do better in the here and now. And she begins that process by loving on her hurting daughter.
It's not easy. Julie is suffering something serious. But she responds to her birth mother's unorthodox methods, and before long she's brushing her hair and eating again—even sometimes risking a smile. It's harder for Ricki, in some ways, to reforge a relationship with her two sons, but she tries to do that, too. Throughout her awkward, painful visits, she faces the storm of familial scorn—weathering it all in the hopes of happier days ahead. Ricki knows she can never be the mother she should've been. But there's still a chance she can be the mother they need now.
Maureen and Ricki inevitably clash, and neither of them are particularly winsome in conflict. But Maureen clearly loves her stepkids and wants what's best for them. And she gracefully extends an olive branch to Ricki at a critical juncture.
At the risk of spoiling a special onscreen moment, I'll tell you that the olive branch is an invitation to son Joshua's wedding. And it is a prickly branch indeed. Ricki thinks she can't afford to go at first, until boyfriend Greg decides to sell his treasured Gibson guitar so they can fly out together. But there's the emotional component, too: Few people actually want her there, Ricki realizes. She'll be judged and scorned by many of the guests. But she decides to go anyway—shunned and shamed at many a turn—in order to be there for Joshua's big day.
There's a wry reference to somebody's mom being "Satan." Also the "church of Ricki."
Ricki and Greg certainly aren't "saving" themselves for a second marriage. In one scene, the two kiss frantically as they start to shed their clothes. They sometimes lounge in bed together. They kiss, both on and off the stage. Ricki and ex-husband Pete have a near-intimate moment themselves. They almost kiss and they almost do more than that before Pete cuts things short and hastily leaves the room.
Ricki's son Daniel insists he was born gay. Ricki counters that he chose the lifestyle. And Daniel seems to believe that his mother just refuses to accept him for who he is. But eventually Ricki (somewhat awkwardly) engages in a quick conversation with Daniel's boyfriend expressing her happiness that Daniel found someone. We see the two men hug and dance together.
Ricki rails against a double standard between men and women when it comes to family—how The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger can have seven kids by four different women and no one (she says) thinks a thing about it, but women are not given the same sort of license. People talk about male body parts, infidelity and divorce. Ricki walks around in a towel. We also see her wearing just a robe or a nightgown at times.
There are several heated verbal confrontations, but the closest we get to physical violence is when Julie throws an ice cream cone at a car. We learn that Julie tried to kill herself by swallowing a bottle full of sleeping pills—the catalyst that brings Ricki to Indianapolis.
Crude or Profane Language
Eight s-words and a smattering of other exclamations, including "d--n," "a--," "b--ch" and h---." God's name is misused six or eight times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Pete keeps a stash of marijuana in his freezer, ostensibly for his headaches. He says he's never actually used it, but when Ricki finds it they both—along with Julie—decide to get high together. (We see its effects on them.)
While playing at the bar, Ricki sometimes drinks beer and margaritas. At Joshua's wedding, special mixed drinks have been made and named after the bride and groom. Folks quaff a variety of alcoholic beverages at the wedding and elsewhere. Greg laments that security personnel confiscated a bottle of booze, which was supposed to be his wedding present. He talks about how his son OD'd on LSD.
Other Negative Elements
Julie, the maid of honor at Josh and Emily's wedding, marches down the aisle as if she was walking on broken glass. The wounds from her own marital breakup are still frighteningly fresh, and each step seems to stir up pain and anguish over her dream gone bad. Finally, it seems as if she can take it no more. She turns around, as if ready to bolt like a spooked horse.
But she does so just as she walks by her mother.
"Don't run away," Ricki tells her in a low voice. "Walk on."
Walk on. I like that line. In two words, it summarizes the movie beautifully.
I'll unveil a bit more of the scene: Ricki's sitting in the back—far away from the wedding party, the children she gave birth to. They seem ashamed of her. The guests whisper and point. In a day dedicated to nuptual bliss, Ricki is an embarrassment—a woman who ran away and then dared to come back, eyes heavy with makeup, her bright blue dress covered with a black leather jacket.
She almost didn't come. Who would want to willingly expose herself to this sort of societal horror? Who wants to be ridiculed? Who wants to be quietly despised? Who wants, even, the pity? Not Ricki, certainly. There's no way she can make the past better. The easiest thing to do would be to leave. To wash her hands of her family for good. To run away. Again.
Instead, she walks on. She walks into the ceremony with courage and humility. She does so not to correct the past, but to set a better cadence for the future. Years before, she walked out. Now she walks on.
Ricki and the Flash has its problems, of course. The language is sometimes harsh. The behavior we see can be inexcusable, the mindsets and worldviews skewed. But in spite of its imperfections and sometimes through them, this music-loving movie shows us how important familial bonds are. How the bad decisions we make as parents can deeply impact, and wound, our children. And how, in the midst of these mistakes, we must move forward. This is a story that, in its own damaged way, is about family, healing and grace. It's about how the better road is sometimes the more difficult, but how important it is to walk on.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Meryl Streep as Ricki Rendazzo/Linda Brummel; Mamie Gummer as Julie; Kevin Kline as Pete Brummel; Sebastian Stan as Joshua; Rick Springfield as Greg; Audra McDonald as Maureen; Ben Platt as Daniel
August 7, 2015
November 24, 2015