The movies preach that we should never let go of our dreams, and some of us never do, no matter what the universe tells us.
“Ricki and the Flash” celebrates such pigheadedness, and gives Meryl Streep her one and only chance to strut like a rock-star-wannabe, playing a California supermarket cashier who struts her stuff, weekends, at The Salt Wheel, a Tarzana roadhouse where her clientele is as ancient as the band.
Jonathan Demme’s pleasantly predictable family melodrama sends 60something Ricki, in delusional bangles and braids and tattoos, back to the life and family she left behind for her classic rock dreams.
Her ex, played by Kevin Kline, settling nicely into sweater-vested old age, is well off. But their daughter is going through a divorce and cracking up in the process. She needs her mother.
Streep’s daughter Mamie Gummer plays her kid, and beyond the physical resemblence, the nepotism pays off in the fearless way she lets herself go. Julie is a wreck, for much of the movie — medicated, unbathed, enraged at the mother who left her.
“I can see you still put in the effort,” she growls, seeing Mom’s eye shadow and ’80s-inspired wardrobe. Mother struggles to connect, daughter struggles to not be suicidal.
And then Julie’s siblings show up — one is getting married, the other gay and not up to date on the headlines about his marriage options. Later, the second wife (Audra McDonald) makes an appearance.
Things go pretty much as you’d expect here, as Demme revisits “Rachel Getting Married,” peopling his picture with tolerance — gay characters, an interracial marriage, an emotional wedding. This is more like his version of “Elizabethtown,” a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and is far too happy letting Streep and a band of real musicians (Rick Springfield is quite good as her guitarist/lover) perform entire songs — “American Girl,” a Jenny Lewis cover, a Springsteen tune here, an Edgar Winter tribute there. Demme’s decades of concert documentaries serve him well, though he does nothing fancy with the camera or the concert staging. And do we really need to re-hear all these covers, start to finish, in Meryl’s voice? Editing would have helped.
But Streep is positively effervescent in the part, sassy and in good voice (the acoustic Jenny Lewis cover is spot-on). And for all its overly-familiar notes, “Ricki and the Flash” rarely seems out-of-tune.
MPAA Rating: PG – 13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language
Cast: Meryl Streep, Rick Springfield, Kevin Kline, Audra McDonald
Credits: Directed by Jonathn Demme, script by Diablo Cody. A Sony Tristar release.
Running time: 1:42