Miraculous Meryl Streep can do anything, as she’s proven again and again on-screen. This time she plays Ricki Rendazzo, a middle-aged rock musician who, decades ago, left her husband and three young children, moving from Indianapolis to Los Angeles, seeking fame and fortune – neither of which she’s found. Commitment-phobic Ricki fronts a Tarzana bar band called The Flash. That’s her night job. During the day, she cashiers at a chic grocery store, forced to smile and be cheery to every customer. Read on…
Suddenly, she’s summoned home to the Midwest by her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), to console their beleaguered daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer) who attempted suicide after her husband left her.
Arriving, penniless, at Pete’s McMansion in a posh, gated community, where she’s remembered by her real-name of Linda Brummel, Ricki not only realizes that Julie is deeply depressed but also that Pete’s second wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), the epitome of domesticity, has actually raised their children.
In addition, Ricki discovers that one of her sons is gay and the other is engaged to be married – only she’s not included in the wedding.
Written by Diablo Cody (“Juno”), who supposedly referenced her own musician mother-in-law, and directed by Jonathan Demme (“Rachel Getting Married”), this acerbic comic drama wavers unevenly between domestic angst and rock concertizing; its disparate elements are disrupting and disconcerting, diluting its essential humanity and emotional resonance.
Not surprisingly, Streep is superb as the convention-defying rebel, subconsciously seeking familial redemption. The nuanced scenes with her real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer, sizzle with authenticity, as do her effective confrontations with Kevin Kline and Audra McDonald.
But an inordinate amount of time is devoted to Streep’s performing with pros like Rick Springfield, who plays her loyal lover/lead guitarist, along with sidemen Bernie Worrell, Joe Vitale and Rick Rosas – the late bassist to whom the film is dedicated.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ricki and the Flash” is a contrived 6, a bit of a disappointment.