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Rick Springfield, Writer Diablo Cody and Director Jonathan Demme
From left: Costar Rick Springfield, Cody and director Jonathan Demme. Photograph: Bob Vergara

7 things Diablo Cody told us about working on Ricki and the Flash

The Oscar-winning screenwriter goes behind the page to reflect on director Jonathan Demme, Lady Gaga and the sacrifices of motherhood

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

Ever since making her name with her debut script, Juno, Diablo Cody has represented a special voice in the movie industry: tough, poised, brutally honest and, sure, a little sarcastic at times. Cody’s recent effort, Ricki and the Flash, is a significant pivot for her into serious matters of parental abandonment and career regret. It also rocks: Meryl Streep stars as bar-band survivor and front woman Ricki Randazzo, while Jonathan Demme directs. Cody called us from Los Angeles.

Working with Demme was a dream come true.
“I’m still basking in the afterglow that Jonathan agreed to do this movie. I love Stop Making Sense. I just showed it to my five-year-old. That may have been premature. Demme is somebody that I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. Everything about him was perfect for this, from his musical sensibility to his films’ dysfunctional families, even to the fact that he had worked with Meryl Streep before [on 2004’s The Manchurian Candidate]. I wasn’t even aware of this at the time that we were filming because I had forgotten: Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’ is in The Silence of the Lambs as well. In a completely different context. Much creepier.”

“Bad Romance” was Cody’s idea.
“I had always had that in the script, because I love the idea of the Flash being this classic-rock band but one that had forced itself to adapt to the changing culture and learn a Lady Gaga song or a Pink song [it also plays 'Get the Party Started'] just to please this drunken audience in Tarzana. I’ve seen real bar bands who have the same kind of shtick. So many of the other songs were things that Jonathan or Meryl had chosen, so it was a true collaboration.”

She breaks cardinal rules.
“Music is obviously something I’m drawn to, and I’m fortunate that it makes it to the screen. Because a lot of times, they’ll just kill it. It’s a cardinal rule for screenwriters: Don’t put songs in your scripts. Because you’re crazy if you think the director is just going to go along with your musical instincts. But I just got lucky!”

For a personal scene with just Ricki’s family, Meryl chose the song.
“In the script, Ricki originally played a Wilco song there, ‘Passenger Side.’ The moment was intended to capture the true soul of Ricki, this kind of world-weary mood. But I believe it was Meryl who said, ‘That should be a moment when she plays an original song for her family.’ And I said, ‘You could not be more right.’ Something truly personal to her, not a cover. Usually when you’re on a film set, it feels very alien. But that day, I really felt like I was sitting in the living room with that family, eavesdropping.”

Originally, the Flash was a hair-metal band.
“There are certain songs in the film I wouldn’t have thought of, like ‘Wooly Bully’ [Laughs]. And I love that moment. I think my initial vision of the Flash was that they were a little more rough around the edges, a little more dirty ’70s–’80s hair metal. Originally, the script opened with [Billy Squier’s] ‘The Stroke,’ because I was thinking about how Ricki had been screwed by the record industry. She would be singing that song with so much anger. The Flash ended up having more of a warmer classic-rock sound—which I love.”

Cody has a real Ricki in her family.
“My husband’s mom is a Ricki-esque lead singer in a band. She is a real character. They’re called Silk and Steel. [Laughs] I know, seriously? I’ve admired her for so long. Since I’ve met her, I’ve asked her family members, ‘Do you realize how cool this is?’ And I don’t think they do. When it’s someone who’s that close to you, you kind of take it for granted. Whereas for me, joining the family as an outsider and seeing her perform, I just thought: Oh, my God, this is so cinematic. Where is this character in the movies?”

The script is her future apology to her kids for working too hard.
“Screenwriting is a form of therapy for me. It’s definitely a lot of my own preoccupations playing out on the screen all the time. My interest in Ricki for me comes from the idea that, some day, I’m going to have to sit down with my kids and ask them if they resent me for having been so passionate about my career. Because I truly love writing and I’ve never stopped doing it. I didn’t take a break after my kids were born. And I like to think that I’m a very present and attentive mother. But at the same time, there’s always been this other love in my life. And I hope that they don’t hate me for it!”

Ricki and the Flash is now playing.

Read our review of Ricki and the Flash

Ricki and the Flash
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Drama

From Jonathan Demme, a director with an impossibly rich résumé of female empowerment (Married to the Mob), musical euphoria (Stop Making Sense) and failed American dreams (Melvin and Howard), comes a movie that lets him do everything he’s terrific at.

Watch the trailer for Ricki and the Flash

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