2 Stars – Shallow
The broken lives caused by a young mother leaving her husband and three young children to pursue her dream as a rock star is powerfully presented by Jonathan Demme in his film Ricki and the Flash. Written by Diablo Cody who became famous for Juno, the dialogue matches the superb acting of Streep in the title role. With unparalleled subtlety Streep reveals both Ricki’s vulnerability and her selfishness as we walk with her now thirty years after she left her family.
Receiving a phone call from her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), Ricki is told that her daughter Julie (played by Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer) is devastated because her own husband has left her. Obviously reliving the abandonment of her own mother as a child, Julie is collapsing emotionally and physically. Fearful, but willing to come home to help her daughter, Ricki travels from Los Angeles to Indianapolis.
The central theme of the film is that Ricki’s children hate her for abandoning them. With angry rejection, Julie does not want to see her, while at the same time longing for her mother’s love. This conflicted relationship is also true of her two brothers, Josh (Sebastian Stan) and Adam (Nick Westrate). Engaged to be married, Josh hugs his mother but at the prodding of Julie he and his fiancée announce that they don’t want Ricki at their wedding.
Adam is even more angry. Unwilling to give his mother a hug Adam aggressively announces that he is gay and criticizes his mother’s conservative politics. Ricki has a reason she wants to support the troops but doesn’t explain it to her children nor do they ask. It is clear that Ricki’s return to the pain of her family begins a journey that is both as complex as it is promising.
The desire to fix the damage that we cause by our immature or selfish decision is universal. However the necessity of confession, forgiveness and the promise to change is often missing from our efforts. In this tale these deeper spiritual solutions are resolutely avoided while trying to give hope that reconciliation is nevertheless possible. The happy ending presented in the film is therefore difficult to accept, even though the film effectively manipulates our emotions. But we can’t help but wondering what happens after that momentary reconciliation. Will anyone confess the truth? Will years of rejection going both ways be acknowledged? Will reconciliation truly come or will everything go back to what it was? That is the difficulty with reconciliation that lacks a true change in the lives of the people. It is more wishful thinking than actual resolution.
- As you look back at the regrets of your life, how have you attempted to make things right? Were you effective? Why or why not?
- The judgmental attitudes of the wealthy subculture of Indianapolis toward Ricki was painful to watch. Have you experienced critical and judgmental attitudes from people who neither know you nor care about you? How did you deal with this?
- The passion that Ricki has for her music caused her to make a choice between herself and her family. This choice cost everyone dearly. If you were in her place what would you do differently, both back then and now?