Just when the world thought Meryl Streep had done just about everything an actress can do, her latest movie features the 19-time Oscar nominee singing Lady Gaga. As mother turned rocker, Ricki Rendazzo, title character in the musical dramedy “Ricki and the Flash”, Streep teams-up with fellow Academy Award winners Jonathan Demme (director of “The Silence of the Lambs”) and screenwriter Diablo Cody (“Juno”). This film isn’t groundbreaking by any means, as there are hardly any real sparks in the traditional, yet satisfying story. But what “Ricki” proves, more than anything, is that Streep can still hit it out of the park.
As the film opens we see Ricki and The Flash, her band, performing in a small town California bar, where they’re the house band. Ricki never hit it big as an artist, having only released one album (an actual record – not a CD) during her long career. She and The Flash perform covers of classics, as well as some modern songs. They also cornily banter in between tunes, entertaining the handful of people in the room – a nice, authentic touch.
But when Ricki (whose real name is Linda) receives a call from ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) that the husband of their daughter Julie (played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer) has left her for another woman, he asks her to come back home to Indianapolis for a visit – to the family she abandoned a long time ago.
Ricki’s family is as dysfunctional as it gets, and an awkward restaurant scene involving most of the members is tough to watch (though not as wacky and ridiculous as the one in “August: Osage County”. What is it about Streep and family dinner confrontations?) One of the biggest surprises in the film is that even though the trailers and commercials heavily promote the Streep/Gummer relationship as the central focus of the film, it’s really only half of the story.
Ricki’s lead guitarist, Greg, is played by Mr. “Jessie’s Girl” himself – Rick Springfield. Over the course of the film, Ricki and The Flash perform chart-topping singles from artists such as Bruce Springsteen, U2 and P!NK. As you watch Streep and Springfield sing “Drift Away”, the pair looking at each other for practically the entire time, they both do a great job conveying the emotions of the song with their eyes as well as their voices. One of Demme’s main successes with “Ricki and the Flash” is that all of the songs are performed “live” (no post-dubbing), which does elevate the overall experience. And the film’s sole original song, “Cold One” (which Streep sings twice) is terrific.
Streep often shines with simple facial expressions and reactions that are chuckle-worthy. There are also plenty of showcase moments, including a conversation between her and Pete’s new wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald). It’s too early tell if Streep’s work is good enough for a 20th Oscar nomination (she’s a lock for a Golden Globe Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical nod). Overall, like a great concert, “Ricki and the Flash” pulls you in early, keeps you entertained, and leaves you with some fun memories.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Ricki and the Flash” gets a B.
Running Time: 101 min.