Movie reviews: Ricki and the Flash, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, No Escape

Ricki and the Flash (12A) opens with rock ‘n’ roll singer Ricki (Meryl Streep) addressing her adoring audience from the stage, 

a moment that takes on a poignant aspect when the camera pulls back and we realise that Ricki — her hair side-braided, and dressed in mid-’80s hippy-chick chic — is playing a dive bar in Tarzana, California. 

Ricki — Linda by day, when she works on the check-out of her local supermarket — abandoned her family of husband Pete (Kevin Kline), daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) and sons Adam (Nick Westrate) and Josh (Sebastian Stan) many moons ago, in order to follow her dream.

When Pete calls to say that Julie is divorcing from her husband, and has plunged into a depression, Ricki/Linda reluctantly travels to Indianapolis to be at her daughter’s side. 

Directed by Jonathan Demme from Diablo Cody’s script, Ricki and the Flash sets up an intriguing scenario, as Ricki’s aging wild-child persona threatens to shatter the cosy, suburban life Pete has established with Maureen (Audra McDonald), the woman who has been mother to Ricki’s children for most of their lives. 

There’s a superbly fractious relationship between Streep and her real-life daughter Gummer (who steals the show), particularly as Streep, who isn’t particularly believable while performing on-stage, gives Ricki an achingly vulnerable reading in her private life.

Just as story is about to explode with pent-up frustrations, however, the movie takes an odd detour, removing Ricki from her conflicts, defusing the tension, and opting instead for a time-honoured (but facile) resolution to the issues created by Ricki’s belated intrusion into her family’s lives.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (12) stars Thomas Mann as Greg, a high school senior who spends his spare time making parodies of classic European movies with his best friend Earl (RJ Cyler). 

When his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukaemia, Greg’s mother forces him to give her a call, and so begins ‘a doomed friendship’ with ‘the dying girl’. 

Adapted from his own novel by Jesse Andrews, and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the movie is acutely aware of its cinematic predecessors, and employs a daringly direct sense of humour to undercut many of the sub-genre’s clichés. 

There is a plausible clumsiness in the way Greg and Rachel stumble around the looming spectre of death, daring one another to meet the unspeakable head-on, and their performances are excellent: Mann is awkward but unintentionally charming as the blockheaded teenager, while Cooke, initially radiant as Rachel fizzes with potential, grows even more compelling as the chemotherapy treatment sucks away her will to live.

Meanwhile, RJ Cyler is a real find as Greg’s ‘co-worker’ Earl, a deadpan, low-key presence that provides the story with its emotional anchor. 

Chock-a-block with obscure pop culture references (there’s a very funny running joke concerning Werner Herzog’s movies), the story could very easily have drifted off into the realms of self-absorbed wackiness, but the offbeat humour is firmly focused, and the comic timing is impressively sharp for such a relatively young cast.

Failed businessman/engineer Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) is given a shot at redemption in No Escape (15A), when he is offered a job in a ‘fourth-world’ country in Asia. 

Unfortunately, Jack and his family of wife Annie (Lake Bell) and daughters Beeze (Claire Geare) and Lucy (Sterling Jerins) arrive just as a violent coup erupts, and soon the Dwyer family are running for their lives as the anarchic revolutionaries target Western civilians for cold-blooded assassination. 

Co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle, No Escape is a taut thriller that unfolds over the course of 24 hours as the Dwyer family attempt to traverse the unknown city and gain sanctuary at the American embassy. 

Deliberately or otherwise, the story and its iconography evoke the fall of Saigon and the panic as American citizens attempted to flee Vietnam, and Dowdle makes no bones about the fact that Jack and his family are entitled to survive by any means necessary, up to and including murder.

The dubious depiction of the local population aside, it’s an engrossing tale that leans heavily on the threat to young Beeze and Lucy to secure our emotional involvement (and you’d need a heart of stone not to root for the Dwyer family in their time of peril). 

The performances from Wilson and Bell are solid if unspectacular, and there’s a rather odd extended cameo from Pierce Brosnan as a grizzled mercenary/spy, but No Escape is sufficiently more than the sum of its parts to work as a grimy, sweaty tale of heroic derring-do.


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