Ricki and the Flash

RICKI AND THE FLASH. Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Rick Springfield, and Audra McDonald. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Rated PG (Mild themes, drug use, sexual references and coarse language).101 min.

No one would ordinarily think of using Meryl Streep to play the role of a hard-rock professional singer-musician, but this film pulls it off. This is an American drama-comedy about a woman, who gives up caring for her family to pursue musical stardom. Meryl Streep stars opposite her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, who takes the part of her fictional daughter, Julie, in the film.

Ricki (Meryl Streep) is the lead performer, Ricki Randazzo, in a rock group named "Flash". After abandoning her family to become a rock star, she returns to her family when her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline) asks her for help with Julie. Ricki's decision in the past to pursue her passion for rock and roll music has alienated her from the rest of her family. Her family unit is riddled with tension, and she is conflicted about coming home.

The film is full of live Band performances and Streep plays her role with energy and verve, and it almost defies expectations to see her do that. Streep's version of "Ricki the rock star" carries the movie in almost every frame. As a family drama, however, the movie doesn't work all that well. Ricky's life is full of emotional tensions: she is estranged from her ex-husband, she hasn't spoken to Julie or her other two children in years, and she finds it difficult to make a personal commitment to anyone else after she divorced her husband. And it all needs resolving.

Ricki makes the decision to start looking after Julie when Pete tells her that Julie is on the verge of a mental breakdown, is financially destitute, and is facing divorce. When Ricki goes back, the personal ties that were broken in the past begin to mend, but then she returns again to her Band, seeking the emotional comfort of one of its members, Greg (Rick Springfield), who loves her. As a result, half-way through the film, Ricki's effort to win back her family and make amends does a radical turn-around. The tempo of rock music takes over the movie, and it grips the final scenes of the movie when Ricki, as the groom's mother, decides to perform with her Band at her son's wedding, making everything all right.

The film's music-appeal clashes with the drama of the family tensions it aims to display. Streep's performance is amazing, but the dazzle of her persona as a rock star affects the dramatic integrity of her role as a conflicted mother. There is potential redemption tucked away in the film, but the star quality of the show-woman, Ricki Randazzo always manages to get the upper hand.

The movie is loaded with subplots that distract from its redemptive intent. Ricki is the mother of a family not going at all well: Pete perhaps still loves her, Julie has tried to kill herself, one of her sons who is is gay is embittered, and she has another son who is about to marry a girl she doesn't like at a wedding to which she is not welcome. As well, Ricki doesn't like Pete's new wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), and it shows.

There is too much going on for a single film to pull it all together. The complexity of the plot means that conflicts exist that are solved superficially and too conveniently, and the film's musical numbers affect the impact of the human drama.

But despite the film's shortcomings, the film shows how good Streep is. She seems to have the uncanny ability to absorb herself in other persons' distinctive personae, and to look amazingly real in doing so. In this film, she has a lilting, soulful voice and she accompanies herself very credibly on a guitar which she actually plays. Her movements on stage as a rock star are great to watch.

The movie has vitality, and entertains, but the thinness of its drama is readily apparent. However, it is worth the price of a ticket to see Meryl Streep perform the role of an ageing, talented rock star. Ricki the rock musician, is watchable even to the point where one begins to wonder what Meryl Streep can't do, but in her illustrious career Streep has been in better movies than this one.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Sony Pictures

Released August 27th., 2015