*1/2 out of ****
Meryl Streep plays an aging rock singer in Ricki and the Flash, not because she's perfect for the role, but because she hadn't done it yet. I find it embarrassing to call this movie disappointing, because I found the trailer to be such a turnoff, that it’s amazing I was able to maintain a little faith in the people involved in its making. After Young Adult, I had finally come to like Diablo Cody as a screenwriter; aging director Jonathan Demme has proved, with films like Rachel Getting Married, that he still has a strong empathetic vision and a love for music; and Meryl Streep always has something new to prove.
The film focuses on Streep as the title character, the singer of a Rock cover band that plays regularly at a blue-collar California bar. Ricki, while out of money, goes to visit her estranged well-off family in Indiana due to a crisis with one of her grown children, Julie (Mamie Gummer). Ricki’s ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), is the most welcoming while Julie and her two siblings reasonably resent the mother who rejected them during childhood, in search of success as a musician.
This seems like a good concept for a movie, but it never comes together in an impressive way. Even with the benefit of Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter, in the cast, I still didn’t believe the film’s characters could have ever shared a kinship and I found a lot of the dramatic scenarios, to be forced and unbelievable (This was the problem I had with Cody's work in Juno).
Segments involving Ricki and the Flash - the band - are among the only ones that seem close to the heart of a director who once raised the bar for filming live concerts. Along with the inclusion of Rick Springfield as Ricki's frustrated on/off boyfriend, the band members are played by Rick Rosas, Bernie Worrell, and Joe Vitale -all veterans of famous bands.
A strange amount of this movie concentrates on Streep's character as a blue-collar republican version of a free-spirit who can't live up to the sophistication of her liberal family members - including the gay son she never understood - but can bring a little "rock and roll" into their stuffy lives -especially during the lame climax, where the crowd Ricky plays for are such a generic version of classy snobs, that I thought they belonged in an Adam Sandler movie. This film is attempting some kind of weird cultural statement, but its lost on me.