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Ricki And The Flash

The Gift

August 6, 2015

Ricki and The Flash (**) PG-13

There was a time when director Jonathan Demme’s films were highly anticipated but I’m not sure that’s going to be the case after long time followers of the Oscar winning filmmaker’s career get a peek at his latest film, Ricki and The Flash. Demme, the critically revered helmsman behind such films as Philadelphia, Stop Making Sense and Silence of the Lambs, to name three of his more mainstream efforts, seems to be slumming it with his latest effort. The script, surprisingly penned by another Oscar winner, Diablo Cody (Juno), doesn’t do Demme or his actors any favors by giving them very little to work with in terms of providing them with an arresting story or situations that don’t reek of cliché. In short, it’s a real wasted opportunity.

It’s not only surprising that Demme would waste his talent with a trifle like this but it also comes as a surprise that a talent of the caliber of Oscar winner Meryl Streep would choose to involve herself with a film such as Ricki and The Flash.

Rick Springfield (!) Streep & Gummer in Ricki and The Flash

Perhaps Streep was only trying to stretch her acting muscles by taking on such a project. I will admit that I can’t recall her portraying a character quite like the title one in the film. Still, good actors and actresses can only carry a film so far and this would be prime example number one in proving that point.

Ricki of the film’s title (Streep) is a former rocker and lead singer of the rock group, The Flash. We learn early on that Ricki gave up everything to follow her heart and career, in spite of being married and having given birth to three children. Ricki’s husband (Kevin Kline) carried on best as he could without her, remarried and raised the couple’s offspring. Now the couple’s only daughter, Jamie (Streep’s real life daughter, Mamie Gummer), has attempted suicide, while one son has proclaimed his homosexuality and the other is on the cusp of marriage. Armed with this knowledge, Ricki decides it’s time to make amends with her past in spite of being romantically entangled with one of her bandmates (Rick Springfield, very well cast here) and occasionally performing with The Flash whenever a gig pops up.

Ricki and The Flash has good intentions. In fact, it has loads of them. Trouble is that it just seems too unfocused too much of the time. There are a few laughs scattered here and there and they’re sure to please undiscriminating audiences. The chief problem is that Ricki and The Flash has the feeling of a film that’s simply trying too hard to win approval. One need look no further for proof than the end sequence wherein virtually the entire cast spontaneously bursts into dance. It’s formulaic sequences like this that sink the picture even when we want to like it. 

Ricki and the Flash opens in Hickory on Thursday, August 6.

The Gift • Rated R

By Sandy Cohen

AP Entertainment Writer

Nobody likes a bully. Especially a past victim with a long memory.

Figuring out who’s the bully and who’s the victim is part of the mystery in The Gift, a satisfying directorial debut from writer, producer and star Joel Edgerton. While it doesn’t break any new ground, the first feature from new studio STX Entertainment succeeds as the kind of unsettling psychological thriller that could inspire one to double-check the locks on the front door.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) just relocated from Chicago to a picture-perfect house in his hometown of Los Angeles, where he has a great new job and an impending promotion. Simon insists his wife not start working right away so they can focus on starting a family.

While out shopping, the couple bumps into Simon’s old high school classmate, Gordo (Edgerton). Shy and awkward, he re-introduces himself to Simon, who didn’t recognize him. They exchange pleasantries and innocuously part ways.

Suddenly, a bottle of wine appears on the couple’s doorstep, a gift from Gordo, though they hadn’t given him their address. Then he pops by unannounced, ostensibly to be helpful. More spontaneous gifts follow—he fills their pond with koi—along with a dinner invitation.

Jason Bateman in The Gift

To Robyn, Gordo seems lonely. To Simon, he seems delusional. He remembers they called him Weirdo back in high school.

When Simon insists they cut ties, Gordo responds with an ominous reference to their shared history, which inspires Robyn to examine what happened between them as teenagers.

She becomes the protagonist in the film’s second half, an amateur detective investigating her husband’s past. The more she discovers, the more she distrusts him. Gordo doesn’t seem so solid, either.

Along the way there’s a pond of dead fish, a disappearing dog and a scary shower sequence; nerves ratcheted to the max for each by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ doom-heralding score.

Edgerton’s film plays as homage to the polished, stylized thrillers of the 1980s and `90s, when things went bad for Yuppies. It’s even set close to the period, as evidenced by characters’ reliance on landlines and CDs.

The sprawling, glass-walled, pond-fronted house Robyn and Simon live in is so gorgeously aspirational, it’s practically a character in the film, an ever-present symbol of wealth and promise. Gordo’s class envy shows when he tries to outshine their home with his own.

Edgerton keeps his screenplay timely by using bullying as a backdrop, imagining what happens to teenage tormentors and their targets years later. He also draws a modern wife who’s equally empowered to stand on her own.

The three leads make their performances look effortless, a credit to Edgerton’s direction. He’s eerily on point as a quiet lurker with a menacing side. Hall is commanding as a confident yet vulnerable wife, conflicted about the man she married. Bateman deliciously plays against type as a manipulative, back-slapping executive who will step on anyone to get ahead.

The Gift takes a leap at its conclusion that’s a little hard to believe, but it doesn’t undo the story’s main theme, which Gordo might creepily sum up as ``what happens when you poison other people’s minds with ideas.’’

Like it might be a good idea to check the locks.

Two and a half stars out of four.

The Gift opens in Hickory on Thursday, August 6.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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