A review of “Ricki and the Flash,” which stars Meryl Streep in another great performance as a small-time bar musician. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“I wanna get lost in your rock ’n’ roll and drift away … ” sings Ricki (Meryl Streep), in an L.A. bar that hasn’t been the place to be for a while, and you see her living the lyrics: She gets lost in the moment, drifting away, becoming something bigger and shinier and magical. Ricki, whose real name is Linda, has spent her life chasing stardom, leaving her Midwestern family behind many years ago. There was a failed album, long ago faded in the rearview mirror; now she’s a supermarket cashier who by night fronts the house band — Ricki and the Flash — at the Salt Well. But when she sings, she’s transformed, if only in her own mind.
Watching “Ricki and the Flash” is an odd and surprisingly joyful experience; it seems, particularly in its first half, like you’ve seen it before, and director Jonathan Demme brings an odd bit of rom-com glossiness to the filmmaking that doesn’t suit its often painful story. But Streep’s performance, like lightning, jolts everything. Ricki, early on, is summoned back to suburban Indianapolis by her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), who’s long ago remarried; their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) has moved back home and is struggling to face the aftermath of her own failed marriage. Can Ricki help? Probably not — Julie’s resentments toward her absent mother could fill the Hollywood Bowl — but she’s coming anyway.
The dialogue (by Diablo Cody) is snappy, and the cast gives the immediate feel of two families: the Indianapolis one, headed by stodgy but well-meaning Pete and his warmhearted second wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald); and the Salt Well group, where even the patrons seem like they’ve been there forever, and where Ricki’s been having a casual but longtime fling with guitarist Greg (a charmingly low-key Rick Springfield). Gummer, who looks and speaks uncannily like her “Kramer vs. Kramer”-era mother, gets the movie’s second-flashiest role, and makes Julie’s volcanic anger something vivid and touching; you see where the apple fell.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Ricki and the Flash,’ with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, Audra McDonald, Sebastian Stan. Directed by Jonathan Demme, from a screenplay by Diablo Cody. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language. Several theaters.
But this movie belongs, as so many have, to Streep, who attacks the role of Ricki with wicked energy. This woman, in her too-tight pants and high-heeled boots, has a funnily stiff walk, a raunchy little laugh, and a lived-in voice that suggests too many nights in smoke-filled rooms. And while she’s not very perceptive, she does know that she failed her children and is desperate to shield herself from that pain. Yes, she argues heatedly, she was a terrible mother — but Mick Jagger didn’t raise his kids himself, did he? Left hanging, silently, is the obvious reply: Ricki, who’s staying at Pete’s house because she doesn’t have the money for a motel, is no Mick Jagger.
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Things resolve themselves, in the way of all family dramedies, perhaps a little too slickly. But Ricki will stay with you, particularly her face as she floats along in her cloud of rock ’n’ roll, drifting away.