UPDATES with video: Is there anything Meryl Streep can’t do? In Ricki And The Flash she sings the hits and then manages to hit you in the heart as a lowly San Fernando Valley club rocker who never quite made it in the big time and suffers from a dysfunctional family she basically abandoned. As I say in my video review (click the link above)The film presents Streep at her absolute best, once again providing the 19-time Oscar nominated and three-time winning star with a stellar role she delivers with a sensational and surprising performance. The fact that she plays opposite her daughter Mamie Gummer — portraying Ricki’s film daughter in a very different kind of relationship than the one they share in real life — only adds to the appeal of this cinematic treat for grown-ups starving for something a little more adult in a summer of comic book movie adaptations (seven so far including this weekend’s Fantastic Four reboot).
But what truly electrifies this film, directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Diablo Cody (Oscar winners for Silence Of The Lambs and Juno, respectively) is the music. Flawlessly covering hits made famous by the likes of Tom Petty, Lady Gaga and Bruce Springsteen among others, Streep and her movie band (which includes famed ’80s rocker Rick Springfield as Ricki’s new soulmate as well as song mate) really make these songs come alive. I’m told Streep got guitar instruction from Springfield and rock legend Neil Young in order to play the guitar as realistically as it appears in the movie and she definitely pulls it off. In fact, as Ricki she reminded me of a Bonnie Raitt type who hadn’t quite made it but might have, given another set of circumstances.
Ricki’s life isn’t one of a star. She’s working part time as a checker at a Whole Foods when a family emergency brings her back across the country to the life she had basically abandoned years earlier in search of a dream. Older daughter Julie (Gummer) is going through a nasty divorce and has threatened suicide. Ricki and Julie’s relationship is virtually non-existent, and Ricki’s hapless ex, played by Kevin Kline (an occasional Streep co-star dating back to Sophie’s Choice), is hoping her rare visit can right things, but it sets off fireworks with Julie who is almost too unforgiving. Her brothers played by the very fine Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate are no less welcoming with Stan’s character trying to keep mom away from his upcoming wedding , and Westgate as Adam who is openly gay and even more openly hostile.
Back at the club Ricki lets her problems bleed into her onstage performances, nearly upending her relationship with guitarist Greg (Springfield). Demme seamlessly balances both parts of the picture and skillfully marries them in the last scenes. He is such an aficionado of musical filmmaking that he makes this movie one of the most accessible in terms of a realistic musical act in recent memory. And despite the family histrionics on display (and that at times, truth to tell, can be a little grating), Demme and screenwriter Cody have delivered a good-time movie that will have audiences leaving the theater on a high.
I have to say I loved it. Streep is just undefeatable no matter what role you throw at her and in this, her third musical feature, she again proves she is as talented in the singing department as she is acting. During a Q&A I moderated with her a couple of years ago I used the analogy of the great Triple Crown champ Secretariat to describe how Streep has just run away from all her contemporaries. “Are you comparing me to a horse?” she said, laughing. Well, certainly a thoroughbred: The fact is, no one can catch her.
Gummer is a revelation in what could not have been an easy task, acting opposite her real-life mom. The only weak link, and it’s a surprising one, is Kline: He can’t seem to get a handle on this guy, though in fairness the script sends mixed signals about him and his feelings toward Ricki as well as current wife Maureen (exquisitely and intelligently played by Broadway royalty Audra McDonald). Rick Springfield fans, on the other hand, can rejoice. He fits into this little cinematic jigsaw puzzle like a glove, perfectly cast love asa interest for Streep and, of course, entirely believable in the musical scenes without going over the top.
Producers are Mason Novick (who discovered Cody), Rocco Caruso and Marc Platt. Sony Pictures will open the TriStar production (the first Tom Rothman TriStar movie to be released since taking over the entire lot) on Friday.