Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen just about every kind of con on the big screen. Heck, we’ve even seen a wide variety of cons play out in real life through politicians and corporate types. The fictional cons provide some entertainment value, as we get to use our sleuthing and deductive skills in an attempt to figure out what’s happening before it actually does. Solving the mystery is often one of the fun pleasures of cinema; however, sometimes, the filmmaker manages to weave such a tangled web that we are better off just sitting back and letting things unfold.
Director Benjamin Caron is known mostly for his TV work on shows like “The Crown” and “Andor”, and here he is working from a script by frequent comedy collaborators Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka (the writing team behind THE SITTER, 2011, and “Animal Practice”). The film serves as a departure from the norm for all three, and it opens with a definition of the film’s title used as a noun: “one who lives by their wits.” And while there may be very little comical wit on display here, there is plenty of intellectual wit and strategy used by all of the characters. Even the chapters are divided into the character names so that we see things develop through their perspective. It really feels like we are assembling an ever-evolving jigsaw puzzle as the shape of pieces shift in our hand.
Tom (Justice Smith, JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, 2018) runs a bookstore in the city and seems to be a really nice guy. We first see him reading Poe, and he stops when the lovely Sandra (Brianna Middleton, THE TENDER BAR, 2021) steps into the store in search of a specific book for her PhD studies. The two hit it off, and this relationship becomes the foundation of the film, even though we rarely see the two together. Max (Sebastian Stan who plays Bucky Barnes in the Avengers movies) is our next chapter. He’s a slick conman who also plays a vital role in the elusive jigsaw puzzle being worked. Mr. Stan proved he could play a creepy dude in last year’s FRESH, and his best work here comes in scenes with Oscar winner Julianne Moore (STILL ALICE, 2014), whose name, Madeline, graces the next chapter. She’s in a relationship with a billionaire (John Lithgow) whose health is fading, and who has a tie to another character in this roster of tricksters.
Who is playing whom? Everyone can’t be the smartest person in the room, right? We are told you can’t cheat an honest man, but I’m not sure if the phrase is incorrect or if there are just no honest people. One thing for sure, in this movie, there are multiple webs of deceit overlapping each other, and the challenge is for viewers to make sense of all the swindling. It’s not really double-crossing when you lose count of how many crosses there have been. For psychological misdirection, it’s tough to beat David Mamet’s 1987 HOUSE OF GAMES. In 1990, THE GRIFTERS was a fun one for small time con artists, but more recently, the two NOW YOU SEE ME movies are just pretending to play in this pool, as they are missing the cleverness required. Director Caron’s film may waver a bit in the final act, and perhaps doesn’t quite earn the ending (a good one that takes us back to THE USUAL SUSPECTS). It seems most will be entertained by the shenanigans of these characters, and these days, that’s a win.
Opens in theaters on February 10, 2023 and then moves to AppleTV+ on February 17
Greetings again from the darkness. Discotheques and Night Clubs were regularly referred to as ‘meat markets’, and all movie lovers are familiar with the term ‘meet-cute’. It’s rare for meat and meet to merge into a cautionary tale of modern-day dating, but that’s what we get from director Mimi Cave’s first feature film and a script from Lauryn Kahn (IBIZA, 2018). This twisted film should slide easily into the Midnight Movie rotation for those looking for a slicer, rather than a slasher.
Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Normal People”, 2020) stars as Noa, a twenty-something frustrated with the results of digital dating apps. Her experience is a case study on the challenges of meeting someone special, or even someone not psychotic, through a dating app. She swipes right on a cute puppy picture, and almost immediately receives an unwanted ‘private’ shot. When she does agree to have dinner with one guy, he criticizes her fashion, yearns for old-fashioned femininity, makes her pay half, and doesn’t bother to hold the door for her. Noa tells her close friend Mollie (Jojo T Gibbs) that she’s done with dating for a while, and who can blame her?
Not long after that trainwreck date, and when she’s least expecting it, Noa gets her meet-cute in the produce aisle at the grocery store. Steve (Sebastian Stan who plays Bucky Barnes in the Marvel Universe) is a charming, good-looking guy and she agrees to give him her number. Their first date is filled with the usual background Q&A stuff, but it’s clear that Noa and Steve have some chemistry. The reason this works cinematically is that director Cave allows us to view Steve through Noa’s eyes. Just like her, we are diligently searching for red flags, remaining on high alert for signs something is off. But plastic surgeon Steve’s early warning signs only become noticeable much later (too late) after his true self is revealed.
Steve’s true-self-revelation is a doozy, and the opening credits pop up just after the gut-punch, approximately 40 minutes in. While the first act plays a bit like a traditional rom-com with all the associated romantic awkwardness, the stunningly plausible shift jerks us and Noa in a different direction. Additional supporting work is provided by Dayo Okeniyi as an initially helpful bartender whose recognition of horror film tropes prevent him from taking any heroic action, and Charlotte Le Bon as a surprise addition to the proceedings. But it’s the performances and the twisted chemistry of Ms. Edgar-Jones and Mr. Stan that allows the premise to work and Act 3 to not quite slip into full blown absurdity. Without giving anything else away, I can admit that this referendum on dating and people, presented as a horror film, struck me as a blend of PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), GET OUT (2017), and a personal favorite, EATING RAOUL (1982).
Streaming exclusively on HULU beginning March 4, 2022
Greetings again from the darkness. I will admit upfront that I’m no fan of watching late thirty-somethings living their lives like a never-ending fraternity party. So when the film opens on a disco ball, and we see a woman breaking up with her boyfriend on the phone while the thumping dance blasts, and then she immediately hooks up with the equally-aged DJ … well, I was concerned that writer-director Argyris Papadimitropoulos and co-writer Rob Hayes decided to make this film as a kick to the shins of any job-holding, respectable grown-up movie watcher. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as all that.
The two instant-lovers wake up naked on the beach the next morning and introduce themselves while handcuffed in the back of a police car. Denise Gough(JULIET, NAKED) is Chloe, an immigration lawyer who has been in an abusive relationship, and seemed to move on quickly (minutes later), without much thought. Sebastian Stan (Bucky from “The Avengers” franchise) is Mickey, a party boy DJ who is also an advertising jingle writer. Chloe and Mickey are both American ex-pats living in Athens, Greece. He’s been knocking around for almost 7 years, and after 18 months, she’s now scheduled to head back to the U.S. And yes, we do get the obligatory frantic airport moment – this one is less touching and more contrived.
The next few weekends basically involve these two going at it like rabbits at any time and in any place. Chloe and Mickey are a beautiful couple in a gorgeous setting, and it’s quite obvious they are incompatible as a couple doing anything other than coupling. If thirty-somethings bonding over partying seems like a recipe for disaster, the party they throw will prove your point. It’s an understatement to say her circle of sophisticated friends don’t mingle well with his group of belligerent scofflaws. Supporting work is provided by Dominique Tipper as Bastian, a former bandmate with Mickey, and Yorgos Pirpassopoulos as Argyris, Mickey’s close friend who wields power locally due to family money.
This is really the Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough show. He’s a good fit as the charming, self-defeating guy who can’t grow up, while she’s an enigma – a woman seemingly too smart to fall for this guy and screw up her life after a weekend fling. Ms. Gough is strong in her ability to create a complex character from a fragmented script that forces her to overcome weak dialogue and absurd situations. As an example, Chloe and Mickey have 3 police encounters … which is 3 more than the average person experiences in a lifetime.
Athens and the island of Antiparos make for a stunning setting for a movie, but the script falls short of the work necessary for this couple to transition from a wild weekend fling to an actual relationship with responsibilities, jobs, and a kid. We see how Chloe feels trapped, but the third act spins out of control as lot of Fridays turn into the titular Monday of reckoning.
Greetings again from the darkness. So many are haunted by the past – unable to move beyond either having been dealt a bad hand or having created one through their own actions. The film opens on a gaunt Steve (JK Simmons), alone in his apartment, and seemingly barely functioning. He is contemplating suicide with a shiny gun he keeps on a coffee table in a home as unkempt as himself. His only breaks are to frantically search the house for another bottle of vodka, or to listen to a phone message that kicks off yet another painful memory.
The film features three timelines for Steve: the despondent, suicidal elder; the twenties and thirties version (Sebastian Stan); and the 1960’s childhood Stevie (Iain Armitage, “Young Sheldon”). Those young years for Stevie recall his always-annoyed mom (Mandy Moore) and his fun-loving dad (Max Greenfield), while the young adult years show us his romance and marriage with Karen (Maika Monroe). It’s not long before we recognize the common thread that binds the timelines: alcoholism. First his dad’s, then his own.
Our memories tend to return in moments and flashes of events. This becomes more evident and the memories less reliable when years of alcohol abuse are in play. The flashes include the courtroom and judge of his parents’ divorce, his dad drinking, his own courting of Karen and the booze that accompanied it, the dissolution of his own marriage, and an unspeakable tragedy that ruined his life without taking it … something he is looking to remedy with that gun.
JK Simmons is remarkable here. His Steve is mired in loneliness, depression, guilt, and regrets – each amplified through booze. Simmons’ performance offers up not a single line of dialogue. He never leaves the apartment. He never has human interaction. Yet despite all of this, he never leaves our thoughts as he pinballs through his memories. Mr. Stan and Ms. Monroe provide the most telling scene outside of Simmons’ segments. Notice the difference in demeanor as he tells her he heard the shot when his dad killed himself vs how she states her mother died from cancer. This is the contrast of moving on no matter what life serves up, or being burdened with that weight forever.
The film was directed by Mr. Simmons’ wife Michelle Schumacher, and she co-wrote the screenplay with Tony Cummings (son of Emmy winning actor Robert Cummings). Mr. Cummings also appears as the judge in the divorce hearing. The film was originally shown in 2017, but is only now getting released. For fans of JK Simmons, it’s a must see.
Greetings again from the darkness. The rogue/burned-out cop obsessed with an old case or particular criminal nemesis is something we have seen many times before. Ordinarily there would be no reason to seek out yet another movie on the subject; however, this time the reason is obvious … Nicole Kidman.
Ms. Kidman, an Oscar winner for THE HOURS (2002), is an excellent actress and has had a wonderful career, but this is something altogether different for her. She plays LAPD Detective Erin Bell, a worn-down, emotionally shattered shell of the idealistic cop who, 17 years earlier, was part of an undercover operation that went tragically and violently wrong. Director Karyn Kusama (JENNIFER’S BODY, 2009) bounces back and forth on the timelines – sometimes we are viewing Erin’s undercover work with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan), and others we get the haggard Erin of present day. The contrast is stark.
The ghost of case past has returned, and we witness what has haunted her these many years. Past decisions and actions have rotted her spirit, while alcohol has since destroyed her body. She is a wreck – physically and emotionally, and her reputation within the force is shot. It wouldn’t be totally accurate to describe her as self-destructive since she has already destructed. The only thing keeping her going is booze and a desire for revenge.
Flashbacks take us through her early work with the crime gang led by Silas (Toby Kebbell), a master of psychological manipulation (think Charles Manson). We also see Erin’s too-close connection to partner Chris, and a terrific bank heist scene explains how things went down. Now it’s 17 years later, and Silas has resurfaced. Erin wonders why. We also see Erin’s feeble attempts to be a mother to her 16 year old daughter (do the math) Shelby, played by Jade Pettyjohn. The two have only a sliver of a relationship as Shelby lives with Erin’s ex Ethan (the eternally underutilized Scoot McNairy).
Other support work is provided by Tatiana Maslany as one of Silas’ gang, and Bradley Whitford as a scummy defense attorney. Erin has a sequence with the latter that emphasizes just how alone she is. When asked where her partner is, we realize she has no partner with her and no back-up on the way … she is a lonely, desperate, rogue cop with a murky plan and a head clouded by booze.
Writing partners Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (known for CLASH OF THE TITANS and RIDE ALONG) deliver very few surprises with the script, leaving the burden on Ms. Kidman to keep us interested. And despite her character’s train wreck of a life, the performance is quite something to behold … her look, her gait, and even her whispered voice – all point to a woman hanging on by a thread and lacking basic daily energy to show any signs of hope. Director Kusama adds texture by showing many non-touristy areas of Los Angeles, and filming the two timelines in such a way that the structure works – although the Erin in shambles is far more intriguing than the younger one. On a separate note, there should be a special Oscar for the make-up team that managed to make the usually glamorous Ms. Kidman look realistically shattered.
Greetings again from the darkness. We are at the 10 year mark of the new Marvel cinematic universe that began with the revolutionary IRON MAN (2008). This 19th movie in the franchise is actually Part 1 of 2 films that will (supposedly) be the lasting legacy of The Avengers. The second “half”, much of which was filmed simultaneously with this one, is set for 2019. Co-directing brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo were responsible for the two most recent Captain America movies (and also one of my all-time least favorites: YOU, ME AND DUPREE), and have now taken on the biggest budget, biggest cast, and longest run time yet of any Marvel movie. In fact, it’s so big, it could only be named ‘Infinity’.
Being that the fan base for this movie is highly sensitive to anything resembling a hint, much less a spoiler, this review will tread very lightly, and instead function as an overview with very general observations. There are a few key points, most of which are quite obvious from either the trailers or the previous movies in the series. First thing to realize is that this is a Thanos movie. He’s the first big (I told you everything was big), bad, nearly omnipotent villain. It should be noted that Thanos sees himself as misunderstood, which leads to the second key point: melodrama abounds – moreso than any previous comic book movie. It seems to be reminding us that Superheroes are people too (but are they really?). The third point is that if every character with a speaking part simply said “I am Spartacus”, it would still likely be the longest ever comic book movie. There are at least 28 characters with “key” roles – and that’s not counting the end credit stinger, or the missing characters we thought we would see, or the one that gets a logo tease as a coming attraction for part 2.
Co-writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus had their hands full in working to come up with a coherent story, while allowing so many familiar characters to have at least one moment in the spotlight, if not a few. The fact that AVENGERS: CIVIL WAR divided the group actually allows for multiple segments to play out concurrently. Though we never doubt these fragmented cliques and isolated individuals will fight to save the galaxy, that doesn’t necessarily mean they get the band back together. In fact, it’s the Guardians of the Galaxy who are a much more cohesive group than our beloved Avengers. But fear not … there is plenty of fighting and action to go around.
Thanos claims he is saving many interplanetary civilizations and restoring balance with his plan to eliminate half of all living beings. While there might be some scientific evidence to back up his plan, it doesn’t sit well with the good guys. More focus is given to his cravings for ultimate control and power provided by tracking down all six Infinity Stones (Tesseract/Space, Mind, Time, Power, Reality, and Soul) to complete his Infinity Gauntlet. Many of these stones are in quite inconvenient locations and require some ingenuity and brute force from Thanos.
Perhaps the travel agent had the biggest challenge as portions of the film take place in New York City, Knowhere, and Wakanda (good luck finding a brochure on those last two). We also get a budding romance from Vision and Scarlet Witch, as well as annoying quasi-romantic banter between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. And while we are on the “TMZ” portion of the review, it should be noted that both Black Widow and Captain America (introducing himself as Steve Rogers) both have new hair styles – though only one of them sports a beard.
In the realm of comic book movies, this would be considered an epic. It has stunning action sequences, remarkable special effects and some terrific comedy mixed in. Of course, you’ll have to accept the melodramatic emotions and fear that we haven’t been previously subjected, and know that the final finality doesn’t arrive for another year. It’s very long (more than 2 ½ hours) but it seems to go pretty quickly. The filmmakers have mostly succeeded in the monumental task of remaining true to the history in order to keep comic book fans satisfied, while also creating something that most should be entertained by. Despite lacking the upbeat, feel-good ending we’ve grown accustomed to, there is a welcome Stan Lee cameo, a post credit stinger (after about 10 minutes of rolling credits). And to top it off, we get “Rubberband Man” from The Spinners. Now that’s big!
Greetings again from the darkness. Your recollection of Tonya Harding is likely not that she was the 1991 U.S. Champion figure skater and a two-time Olympian. And rather than honoring her as the first female skater to land a triple axel in competition, you likely remember “the incident” in 1994 where she whacked her on-ice rival Nancy Kerrigan on the knee with a club. Only Ms. Harding wasn’t the one who attacked Ms. Kerrigan … and that’s only the beginning to what director Craig Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) and writer Steven Rogers (P.S. I LOVE YOU, and a bunch of other mushy stuff) detail in this madcap look at a reality infinitely stranger than most fiction.
Margot Robbie (THE WOLF OF WALL STREET) stars as Tonya Harding, and it’s a career-defining performance … funny, tragic, physical and emotionally charged. This isn’t the expected bleak biopic, but rather it’s a brilliant blend of parody, docudrama, and dark comedy focused on some real life folks that will surely make you grateful for your life. Harding’s abusive, profane and icy mother LaVona is played with aplomb by Allison Janney, who manages to bring some humor to the role of a woman whose approach went far beyond the realm of tough love and straight into cruelty. Sebastian Stan plays Tonya’s husband Jeff Gillooly and Paul Walter Hauser is Shawn Eckhardt, his friend and co-conspirator. In regards to these last two gents, we spend most of the film trying to decide if they are goofy, ignorant or downright dangerous (or all of the above).
Director Gillespie expertly weaves together the domestic scenes, ice skating scenes, and “current” interviews with the main characters. The domestic scenes include Tonya and Jeff, Tonya and her mother, Eckhardt with Tonya and Jeff, and Eckhardt with his own parents. The ice skating scenes emphasize how hard Tonya worked and her relationship with Coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson), while the interviews (recreated from actual interviews) provide contradictory details from the memories of Tonya, Jeff, Eckhardt and LaVona. The film tries not to make fun of them, but they kind of do it to themselves.
Bobby Cannavale appears as a “Hard Copy” reporter who provides some story structure by walking us through the timeline as reported by the media at the time. McKenna Grace plays a young Tonya, while Caitlin Carver is Nancy Kerrigan. Tonya has long been labeled as the most “notorious” figure skater, and a failed boxing career was the closest she came to capitalizing on her notoriety after the scandal. Her life and the incident have been the basis for songs, books, news specials, documentaries, TV parodies, and even a Brooklyn-based museum. The film reminds us that truth and recollections are open to interpretation, and that there is much more to the story than what was reported. Respect is too much for Tonya to hope for, but this excellent and entertaining film might deliver a dose of compassion or empathy (along with incredulity and some laughs).
Greetings again from the darkness. Leave it to the Duplass brothers (Executive Producers here) to turn the traditional sports movie genre upside down. Of course, this is about as much of a sports movie as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but it does use the backdrop of the Olympics to make a point about fading fame. Mostly though, it’s an excuse to crack wise, spew profanities and spoil anything and anyone remotely innocent.
Melissa Rauch (Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory”) stars as Hope, a former bronze medalist in Women’s gymnastics, who captured the hearts of Americans when she battled through an Achilles injury to perform her final event. The movie picks up a decade after Hope’s Olympic heroics and we first see her enjoying a clip of her big moment. And by enjoying, I mean … well, never mind. It turns out Hope never was able to compete again, and instead continues to milk her celebrity status around small town Amherst, Ohio. When her dad (Gary Cole) gently nudges her to take a coaching job, she shouts “I’m a star, not a coach!” Hope is a selfish brat whose egoism has her clinging to former glory and preventing her from joining society.
Hope gets tricked into coaching Maggie, the town’s up-and-coming gymnastics prodigy. Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) idolizes Hope and is her polar opposite in every possible personality trait – a very welcome upbeat and perky addition to the movie. Instead of embracing the opportunity, Hope goes out of her way to sabotage naïve Maggie’s dream. Along the way, she also mistreats the gym owner who somehow fancies her – despite Hope’s hopelessness. Twitchy Ben (Thomas Middleditch) is a sweet guy who sees the good in Hope and does his best to pull her from the dark side.
A twist of fate places Hope at odds with her old flame and former Olympic gold medalist, Lance (Sebastian Stan), who is now a leader in the world of women’s gymnastics. These two banter like siblings who dislike each other, and also execute one of the wackiest ever on-screen comedic sex scenes – for all of you who have fantasized about frolicking with a gymnast.
Director Bryan Buckley is best known for his 50-plus TV commercials that have aired during Super Bowls, but here he lets Melissa Rauch do her thing (she also co-wrote the script with her husband Winston Rauch). There is some commentary on fame and celebrity (and cameos from Olga Korbut, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu), and some insight into narcissism; but mostly it’s a chance for Ms. Rauch to flaunt her foul motor-mouth with some extremely crass and raunchy lines. It’s kind of cute in an absurdly profane way, and some might agree it beats watching real gymnastics.
Note: Including a Doris Day song on this film’s soundtrack may be the funniest, or at least most ironic moment.
Greetings again from the darkness. With this week’s NASA announcement of the discovery of water on Mars, it seems necessary to point out that director Ridley Scott’s latest was not actually filmed on the red planet, but rather in the Jordan desert. OK, maybe not necessary, but it does serve as a reminder that the film (based on the popular book from Andy Weir) may be filled with science … but it’s also fiction – hence the label Science-Fiction. If you were one of THOSE who actually paid attention in science classes and read the optional material, then you will probably find much fault in the details. For the rest of us, it’s a pretty fun ride.
Space has long been a popular movie topic, and a key to such favorites as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Aliens, The Right Stuff, Contact, Space Cowboys, Armageddon, Moon, and most recently Gravity and Interstellar. And of course there are the immensely popular franchises of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”, which both chose a different path than the “grounded” nature of the others. This latest film may actually have as much in common with Cast Awayas it does with any of the space-based films, and while many movies these days seem to be advertisements for Apple, this one is owed a debt by the duct tape company.
Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and her crew (Matt Damon, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Askal Hennie) are hard at work on their Mars mission when a severe storm causes them to evacuate in panic mode. When the storm hits, Damon’s astronaut Mark Watney is lost and presumed dead. Once it’s realized that Watney survived and has every intention of being rescued, the film kicks into gear.
There are three separate stories we follow: the ingenious and spirited survival mode of Watney, the politics and brilliance of the NASA organization, and the crew who now believes Watney’s rescue is their responsibility. The NASA group is led by director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and includes support work from Chiwetel Ejiofar, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, MacKenzie Davis, Donald Glover and Benedict Wong.
Taking the approach of an adventure film with the MacGuyver of all Botanists, Damon’s charm and humor stand in stark contrast to the annoyances of the two leads from Gravity, and provide a mass appeal that should make this entertaining for most any viewer. This approach allows us to imagine ourselves stranded on Mars, and whether we would panic or consider ourselves Space Pirates. There is also a lesson here for all students out there … pay attention in Science class! For the rest of us … “get your a** to Mars”!
Greetings again from the darkness. Having worshiped at the acting alter of Meryl Streep since 1977 (her brief appearance in Julia), this frequent movie-goer takes great delight in seeing her donning a leather jacket and bangles while strumming an electric guitar. Somehow she continues to expand on her already unmatched diverse resume of movie characters – this time as an aging leader of a cover band that plays to a small but loyal audience at a Tarzana bar.
Ricki is no rock star, though she clearly chased the dream. We learn of this when we see her working as a checker at the local supermarket, and then again when her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) calls her home to Indianapolis in a desperate attempt to pull their daughter Julie out of a suicidal depressive state brought on by her husband leaving for another woman. Julie is played by Ms. Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer, and their bond plays out well enough on screen.
The movie’s peak occurs with the family dinner scene, as Ricki is united with her three kids, including sons Josh (Sebastian Stan – known in the Marvel world as Bucky Barnes) and Adam (Nick Westrate). It doesn’t take long before true emotions are bubbling over causing much discomfort throughout the restaurant. See, Ricki left her family to chase her music dream, leaving Kline and his second wife Maureen to provide a sense of normal family life. Maureen is played by six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, who sadly doesn’t get to “flash” her famous singing voice in a movie that is comprised of songs for about half of its running time.
Director Jonathan Demme (an Oscar winner for Silence of the Lambs) and writer Diablo Cody (an Oscar winner for Juno) inexplicably drop the family drama soon after the dinner scene and we spend most of the second half watching Streep and Rick Springfield play out their dysfunctional relationship onstage. If you are unfamiliar with Springfield, he was a pop star in the 80’s and was the Dr. McDreamy predecessor while on “General Hospital”. Lately you may have seen him as the creepy plastic surgeon on “True Detective” … he looks much more normal here.
The band does a nice job with the familiar songs, and Streep is effective as the lead singer and audience favorite. However, even with Demme’s stellar track record with musical documentaries (Talking Heads, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen), it’s difficult to understand why so much time is devoted to the musical performances after the extensive family drama set-up. A perfect example is that once the final act hits, Julie is given no more dialogue. It’s a strange turn.
The script does make a couple of very interesting points. The first involves the repercussions of a mother in chasing her dream … Ricki compares herself and perception to that of Mick Jagger. The second involves addressing the “job” of parents to love their kids. Either of these could be the central theme of a very interesting film, but as with other topics, the surface is barely scratched in this film. Despite the odd choices made by writer and director, it’s clear Ms. Streep is loving her time on stage … her version of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” is alone worth the price of a ticket.