Meryl Streep rarely disappoints film audiences whenever she adds a somewhat unique, unexpected new character to her acting repertoire. That certainly is the case in her current film, Ricki and the Flash; as Streep’s performance as a failed and aging rock n’ roll musician delivers an overall marvelous experience despite a rather thinly fleshed out narrative plot.
Streep plays cover band frontwoman Ricki Rendazzo whose dreams of stardom have fallen far short of her younger expectations. Ricki’s failed quest for rock n’ roll fame and fortune comes at great personal sacrifice to herself and, more significantly, her ex-husband and three, now grown, children that she abandoned many years before. Then known to family and neighbors by her real name of Linda, Ricki left being a full time wife and mother in Indianapolis for an elusive and ultimately unfulfilled rocker limelight in L.A.
Ricki is now the lead singer in her own gritty little band, singing cover versions of other artists’ songs. The band routinely performs in a Tarzana dive bar sparsely populated by late 50-something loyal regulars; while Ricki works her days as a check out register clerk at a yuppie organic food store. Despite this meager professional existence, Ricki clearly loves her music and the stage; while at the same time struggling with, and repressing, the regret of past choices and current commitment-phobia with her lead guitarist and romantic interest, impressively portrayed by real life actor/musician Rick Springfield.
Ricki’s abandoned family past comes back into her life when her ex-husband ( Kevin Kline ) calls to inform her that their daughter Julie ( Streep’s real life daughter Mamie Gummer ) is having a nervous breakdown and survived a failed suicide attempt in the wake of her being dumped by her husband for another woman. Ricki nervously comes home to offer belated support, only to encounter a family filled with resentment and abandonment issues.
Daughter Julie is angry and skeptical of her mother, yet is still tentatively willing to accept the love and support that sometimes only a mother can provide, albeit belatedly. Meanwhile, Ricki’s youngest son, Adam ( Nick Westrate ) resents his mom’s seemingly unsupportive attitude towards his homosexuality; while her older son Josh ( Sebastian Stan ) is slightly more sympathetic to Ricki but still reluctant to invite her to his upcoming wedding.
The results are multiple confrontations over abandonment, guilt, regret, unfulfilled expectations and what could have been, what should have been for this once united family; fractured over Ricki’s impulsive choice to follow her dream over her loved ones’ family needs. Ricki finds herself at a crossroads to validate and reevaluate her choices while, at times clumsily, mend long broken and battered familial fences.
Streep infuses her character with a wonderful mix of flashy style, world weariness and a desire to come to grips with the direction her life has travelled and the toll its taken. Ricki is, at times, a contradiction to expectations. On one hand, she’s a strong and wonderfully unconventional rock n’ roll chick in the mold of Bonnie Raitt, while at the same time espousing strong conservative Republican views and an American flag tattooed on her back.
Streep’s actual singing and skill at playing rhythm guitar provide some of the film’s most delightful highlights when she, as Ricki, is onstage performing.
Springfield, Kline and Gummer exquisitely provide the grist for Ricki’s regret and reevaluation of her life. However, director Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody also offer a somewhat sketchy and underdeveloped sense of the deeper resentments at play within the family. The film ends on a rather saccharine, upbeat ( in more ways than one ) tone that seems all too easily tacked on, and too easily resolving the rifts within the family.
Still, it’s the strong performances by Streep and her central co-stars Springfield and daughter Gummer that gives this film it’s overall appealing and entertaining heart and soul.
Despite some faults, Ricki and the Flash mostly hits the right note.