Directed by The Silence of the Lambs‘ Jonathan Demme, Meryl Streep goes full on rock queen in the not-so-touching family drama, Ricki and the Flash. The film – loosely based on writer Diablo Cody’s mother-in-law’s life – also stars Streep’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer, along with Kevin Kline and musician Rick Springfield.
Ricki (Streep) made some big sacrifices – including leaving her husband and kids behind – to chase her dream of becoming a rock star. Performing in a small bar in LA with her band ‘The Flash’ whilst working in a convenience store to make ends meet, the ageing musician didn’t quite make it to the top of the rocker food chain.
With that in mind, she’s rather surprised to receive a call out of the blue from estranged ex-hubby, Pete (Kline), who asks her for help with their daughter, Julie (Gummer). After her daughter’s cheating husband left her for another woman and a subsequent failed suicide attempt, Ricki flies in to try to help her get over her heartbreak whilst simultaneously also attempting to build bridges with her two distant sons.
There’s a rather sombre atmosphere that looms heavily over this musically-laced spectacle that even a Meryl Streep-Rick Springfield rendition of Pink’s Get The Party Started can’t lift. A patchy affair with occasional moments of stirring awkwardness – often dictated by the mother-daughter (Streep and Gummer) double act – its goodness is too often drowned out by lifeless family conflicts and all-too-unremarkable musical numbers.
Streep’s proven her musical chops in recent years as the wickedly brutal witch in Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods as well as in 2008’s cheese-tastic Mamma Mia!. Yet despite the three-time Oscar winners best attempts to rock the plaited hair and leather jacket, the film is bloated by snooze-worthy music which fails to lift itself out of its slumbers.
The clumsily developed mother-daughter relationship that’s so sporadically dealt with is the film’s biggest disappointment, as the engaging interactions between the pair – whether it be the tension-filled first exchanges or the August: Osage County-esque dinner table scene (the film’s hardest hitting sequence) – are the movie’s life-blood. Switching between family crisis (daughter meltdown), mid-life crisis (Ricki’s regrets and fears) and a rather timid love affair (Ricki and Rick Springfield’s Greg) in such nonchalant fashion epitomise Demme’s effort – it spreads itself too thinly.
There’s nothing wholeheartedly terrible about Ricki and the Flash. Meryl tries to raise the bar, whilst her daughter brings a spiky edge to a crowded family table, yet amongst the rock music and fancy guitars, we get lost within the melodramatic mediocrity of it all.