The title of the new Meryl Streep movie, “Ricki and the Flash,” sounds like a comic book flick about a regular, but spunky teen and the DC Comic character known for super human speed. No, Streep hasn’t joined the ranks of elder actors lending credibility to superhero movies and there’s not a skintight red superhero outfit in sight. Instead, there’s the black leather and fringes of Meryl’s rock ‘n’ roll Ricki, lead singer of bar band The Flash.
Ricki is a rock ‘n’ roll road warrior who never cracked the big time. Twenty five years ago she left behind her comfortable Midwestern life and family—husband (Kevin Kline) and three kids (including Julie, played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer)—for a shot at stardom in Los Angeles. Her one album didn’t chart and now she staves off bankruptcy by day as a grocery clerk, by night playing Golden Oldie covers in a seedy San Fernando Valley bar.
Out of the blue her ex gives her a ring with bad news. Julie’s husband has left her for a younger woman and he’d like her to come to Ohio to comfort her distraught daughter. Despite not having seen Julie in years she returns. Cue the family drama as Ricki tries to make amends for choosing rock and roll over her family.
Streep may not be playing a superhero in “Ricki and the Flash,” but she does a superhuman job of carrying the movie. Ricki is a raw nerve who says what’s on her mind whether she’s on stage or off, and Meryl rocks it. She strums and hums her way through a contrived script by “Juno” writer Diablo Cody that doesn’t add much to the family drama or rock movie genres.
Kline, Rick Springfield and Gummer hit the right notes, but are saddled with dialogue that sounds melodramatically overwritten—“My heart is dead and rotten,” sobs Julie.—or like a Successstory platitude—“It doesn’t matter if you kids love you,” says Springfield, “it’s your job to love them.” Missing are Cody’s usual wit and director Jonathan Demme’s careful examination of his characters. Instead they’ve opted for a blandly crowd-pleasing movie that isn’t as crowd-pleasing as they might have hoped.
“Ricki and the Flash” is about the power of music to break down barriers and bring people together, but as well shot as the music scenes are—and they should be, Demme made one of the great music films of all time, “Stop Making Sense,” among many others—the movie hits the wrong notes when the music stops.