Dramedy: To help deal with a family crisis, the frontwoman of a rock and roll cover band returns to the city and family she long ago abandoned in favor of her musical career.
Linda Brummel, a.k.a. Ricki Rendazzo (MERYL STREEP), is the frontwoman for the rock and roll cover band, Ricki and the Flash, that routinely plays in a small Tarzana, California bar. While the bartender, Daniel (BEN PLATT), and their small number of fans adore her, Ricki is something of a mess. To try to make ends meet, she works as a grocery store cashier, but has filed for bankruptcy, while she can't fully romantically commit to her band's lead guitarist, Greg (RICK SPRINGFIELD).
Things get more complicated when she receives a call from her rich ex-husband, Pete Brummel (KEVIN KLINE), that their daughter, Julie (MAMIE GUMMER), is emotionally distraught from her husband cheating on her and wanting a divorce. Despite having little cash, Ricki travels back to Indianapolis where she gets a cold reception from Julie for having abandoned the family so long ago. That chilly greeting continues from their gay son, Adam (NICK WESTRATE), while his brother, Joshua (SEBASTIAN STAN), is a bit more accepting, although it's revealed that he and his fiancée, Emily (HAILEY GATES), don't want Ricki to attend their upcoming nuptials.
With Pete's wife, Maureen (AUDRA McDONALD), out of town tending to her ailing father, Ricki tries to resume the role of mother to her now adult kids, even if she isn't sure how to do that, especially upon learning that Julie was recently suicidal over the turn of events. With all that's now going on, Ricki also tries to figure out her own life and where the various people in that fit along with her.
OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
From the moment I was assigned to play clarinet in my elementary school's band, my fate was apparently sealed in terms of ever becoming a rock star. Not even considering my lack of any sort of innate musical talent to play the guitar, drums or piano, the fact that blowing air through that reeded instrument was the exact opposite of cool in 1970s era 5th and 6th grades meant my musical career ended there. After all, aside from Benny Goodman, name a famous clarinet player. Now name one in a rock 'n roll band.
Granted, I seriously doubt anyone else in our school band went on to fame and fortune touring the world by playing any other instruments. Yet, there are countless people who perform in small bands, sometimes doing their own music, more often covering popular songs previously done by others, and they do so across a wide span of ages.
Even so, when you spot someone in their sixties doing so, you have to wonder if that's stemming from a simple love of performing, a desperate attempt to hold onto one's youth by doing something more commonly associated with younger people, or an escape from something in one's life. That's a question that comes to mind when watching "Ricki and The Flash," a dramedy (albeit leaning more toward drama than comedy) where Meryl Streep plays the title character who fronts the titular band that usually performs cover songs of old classics, but is having to somewhat reinvent themselves with newer songs.
As directed by Jonathan Demme ("The Silence of the Lambs," "Philadelphia") from a script by Diablo Cody ("Juno," "Young Adult") the story focuses on Streep's character who long ago abandoned her family (Kevin Kline as the now ex-husband, Sebastian Stan, Nick Westrate and Mamie Gummer as their now adult kids) in favor of trying to be a rock star.
The question, of course, is whether she was running toward that goal or running away from the commitment of being a wife and mom. That comes into play as the character played by Gummer (who just so happens to be Streep's real-life daughter) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to her marriage ending.
Ricki is summoned by her ex to return back home to help deal with that, despite her obviously not remotely being an expert on relationships, what with her previous track record or her inability to commit fully to her band's lead guitarist (real life rocker Rick Springfield). With her ex-husband's wife out of town, she sort of moves into his place and awkwardly tries to resume her role as mom, although the rust more than shows.
Scribe Cody, ever the verbal wordsmith, delivers some fun dialogue exchanges between the various characters. And likely to no one's surprise, Streep again delivers a strong performance, even if her character comes off just a smidge not quite developed enough to connect the various emotional and behavioral pieces into a fully satisfying whole. And a brief diatribe where her character goes on about the inequalities of how parenting is perceived and accepted by the outside world -- as filtered through the life of rock stars -- feels a bit too on the nose (when we already have seen and realized the point).
The actress even learned to play the guitar for the part, and coupled with her already proven singing voice, she creates a believable rocker in a believable rock and roll cover band. Demme, who previously helmed the rock documentary "Stop Making Sense," shows he has what it takes to make such performance numbers fly, and they're nothing short of entertaining to watch.
For the most part, the film is as well, although like Streep's character, it feels like it was never fully fleshed out to make it great. And much like the cover of real songs, it sometimes comes off as an imitation of a solid pic about family dysfunction, parenting and career pursuit. That said, such songs can be enjoyed for what they are, which also holds true for "Ricki and the Flash" that's clearly good and certainly easy enough to watch. The film rates as a 6 out of 10.