If Ricki and the Flash were merely a vehicle—even a contrivance—for the musical and dramatic gifts of Meryl Streep, that would be enough to satisfy me. I’m sure some people will dismiss it in those terms, but I found it enjoyable, an agreeable piece of entertainment that allows us to bask in the glow of a singular talent. The movie may not be great, or even memorable, but I had a good time watching it…and that is no small compliment.
The leading role created by screenwriter Diablo Cody fits Streep like a glove, and she is clearly comfortable in the hands of director by Jonathan Demme. Streep plays an ’80s-style rock-and-roller who holds court at a neighborhood bar in the San Fernando Valley playing cover versions of familiar hits with her longtime band, while earning a living bagging groceries during the day. (Perhaps needless to add, Streep does her own singing and playing, on a vintage Stratocaster.)
A sudden phone call from her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) summons her home to Indiana, where her grown daughter (played by Streep’s real-life offspring Mamie Gummer) has become despondent since her husband left her. Streep walked out on her family many years ago and has been a distant, mostly absent figure in their lives ever since. Straight-arrow Kline married a solid woman (Audra McDonald) who has raised the children in prosperous surroundings.
With her aging-rocker look and sensibilities, Streep is a fish out of water in this neatly-groomed suburban setting, but she does her best to offer her sullen daughter some motherly help. Sparks inevitably fly as we meet her sons and their adoptive mom comes home from a trip out of town. Back in California, Streep has to come to terms with her own domestic situation, strongly attached to her bandmate Rick Springfield but reluctant to admit that she loves him enough to make a commitment.
Ricki and the Flash never cuts terribly deep, but it’s a likable film with an appealing cast. I was glad to see the wonderful Charlotte Rae in an all-too-brief appearance, and wish Kline had more to do, but the movie is all about Meryl, her daughter, and her boyfriend.
As icing on the cake, the “greatest hits” music is fun to listen to. It’s hard not to smile as you listen to this tight-knit band perform “Keep Playin’ that Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Drift Away,” “Wooly Bully,” “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” and other favorites as well as one original, “Cold One.”
In a summer packed with high-concept blockbusters, surely there is room for a pleasant, undemanding picture like this—with one of the greatest actresses on the planet letting her hair down and having a good time.