Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate.
Is there anything that Meryl Streep cannot do? At an age when most actresses find it hard to land meaty roles or substantial character parts, Streep is a chameleon who seems to still be going strong, playing a variety of diverse and challenging roles.
A case in point is her new film in which she plays Ricki, a leather clad rocker with a covers band in California. Years earlier she walked out on her middle class conservative Jewish family in Indianapolis to follow her dream of becoming a rock star and finding fame and fortune. Unfortunately the dream has faded. While Ricki plays with the band in dingy bars at night she barely ekes out living working at a checkout counter in a local supermarket. And her relationship with her lead guitarist Greg (played by Aussie rocker Rick Springfield) is also complicated as he clearly wants more from the onstage flirting and banter.
Then she gets a phone call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) who tells her that their daughter Julie (played by Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer) is depressed and suicidal after her husband left her. Reluctantly Ricki packs her guitar and heads home to Indianapolis, only to find herself facing a mountain of bitterness, resentment and recriminations. Initially we are not sure that Ricki has the emotional strength and character to heal the rift in her family. Slowly though Ricki begins to reconnect with Julie and draw her out of her funk.
Her relationship with her two sons is also troubled. Josh is engaged and about to be married, while Adam has come out as gay. “Children are not required to love their parents, but you have to love them. That’s what parents do,” Greg tells her at one point when she lets her frustration get the better of her.
There are some bleak and emotionally wrenching moments throughout, but ultimately the film moves towards a feel good ending and a rousing finale that holds out some sense of optimism. There is a semi-autobiographical touch to the script by Diablo Cody (Juno, etc), who has based the character of Ricki on her own mother. Ricki And The Flash is a bittersweet tale of past mistakes, regrets, second chances, redemption, and the power of music to heal wounds. We’ve seen this sort of discord and uneasy dynamics of dysfunctional families before, so there is a feeling of familiarity about some of the material.
What sets it apart from the pack though is the fabulous music. Not a slickly packaged compilation of commercial hits though, the music here sees Streep herself power her way through a number of 70s and 80s pop standards, from Tom Petty to Drift Away to U2 and even a gritty Bruce Springsteen ballad. Initially the thought of Streep covering a Springsteen song may have been sacriligious, but surprisingly she absolutely nails it! Streep has sung on screen before most notably in Mamma Mia! and the recent Into The Woods, but here she is actually very good.
Ricki lives very much in the moment and she has an unconventional approach to life. But Streep captures the character and all her flaws and insecurities with another wonderful performance. Gummer eschews make-up for much of the time and brings some biting touches to her performance as the embittered Julie. Kline is very good at playing the straight laced conservative type, and his performance here is laced with touches of self effacing humour. This is the third time that Kline and Streep have appeared together on screen, following 1982’s Sophie’s Choice and 2006’s The Prairie Home Companion.
Springfield, best known for his #1 hit Jessie’s Girl, is no longer the handsome heartthrob of thirty years ago when he appeared in tv’s General Hospital, but he brings a grizzled and gnarled, lived-in quality to his performance here, and he vaguely resembles a younger Kris Kristofferson circa 1975’s A Star Is Born. And Tony award winning actress Aundra McDonald is also very good in a small role as Pete’s new wife, who proves to be one of the most sympathetic and compassionate characters in the film.
The director is Jonathan Demme (the dark psychological thriller The Silence Of The Lambs, Philadelphia, etc), making a return to dramatic fiction after a decade directing documentaries and music videos. He brings a wonderful fusion of bittersweet drama and humour to the material. He has a sensitivity towards musicians and knows how to shoot musicians, and he seems most comfortable with the energetic rock numbers which elevate the material.
Ricki And The Flash is a delight, and fantastic entertainment.