– Let’s establish right away that iconic actress Meryl Streep playing the title character in “Ricki and the Flash”—the aging leader of an L.A. house band—is about as convincing a rock singer as Russell Crowe was as a Broadway belter. Thankfully, in large part due to all the Oscar-winning talent involved in the film, “Ricki and the Flash” depends more on Streep’s acting prowess and the film has enough strong moments to keep it afloat.
Director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia”) has made as many great concert documentary films as he has regular movies, and his skill is apparent here. He maintains the integrity of the live performances as Ricki ekes out a living playing covers in a band along with potential boyfriend Greg (a perfectly credible Rick Springfield). Writer Diablo Cody’s (“Juno”) script is less edgy than some of her previous work, but navigates some delicate but important themes about the regrets of a career-minded woman who sacrifices her family to make it in the music business.
Ricki’s ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline, excellent as always) calls her back to his palatial Indianapolis home where their daughter Julie (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) is on suicide watch when her husband leaves her for another woman. Reunited with her adult kids for the first time in years, Ricki is not exactly given a hero’s welcome, and years of guilt and neglect boil to the surface. Eventually, Julie and Ricki begin to bond, though moments with Pete’s current, younger wife Maureen (a radiant Audra McDonald) are decidedly tricky.
But there’s some real substance here and the talented cast pulls it off. The subject material of how career woman, unlike her male peers, is often judged harshly for pursuing her professional aspirations is worthy of more film-based attention.
If we don’t see Meryl Streep (or anyone else for that matter) butcher a Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen tune anytime soon we’ll be grateful. But upon more careful analysis, that is probably the point here. There’s a reason Ricki’s lone album didn’t sell and why she’s still singing in a dive bar in Tarzana. “Ricki and the Flash” isn’t trying to explore the glory days of a rock star, but the heartbreak of a mother who may have sacrificed too much searching for her promised land.
Rated PG-13 (for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language).
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