Streep’s flashes of brilliance dominate ‘Ricki’

By Bob Bloom
Meryl Streep is such an iconic performer that her presence in a film automatically raises the bar, overcoming whatever obstacles and problems exist in the script.
This is definitely the case with “Ricki and the Flash,” a family comedy-drama that offers few surprises and travels a well-worn path toward understanding and redemption.
Streep portrays Ricki Rendazzo, who left her life as Indianapolis wife-mother Linda Brummel, to pursue her dream of rock ‘n’ roll stardom.
The fact that she and her band are the weekly performers at a small bar in Santa Barbara, Calif., that she must work as a cashier at a grocery store to make ends meet and that she is flat broke does not seem to discourage her nor cool her passion for her music.
Her old life, though, comes back to haunt her when her ex-husband calls to ricki and the flash 2tell her that their daughter, Julie (an acerbic performance by Streep’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer), is in a deep depression after she was dumped by her new husband.
Reluctantly, Ricki flies to Indianapolis, only to be savaged by Julie, who makes it clear that she does not want her mother’s consoling, counseling or presence.
A determined Ricki, though hurt and discouraged, decides to soldier on and pushes herself into her daughter’s situation — trying everything she can to lift Julie out of the doldrums.
The situation continues to go downhill after a tense dinner with Ricki’s two estranged sons and the return of Julie’s stepmother.
A damaged Ricki returns to Santa Barbara where even her music can’t comfort her.
Despite all these glum situations, “Ricki and the Flash,” directed by the wonderful Jonathan Demme, is basically a comedy. The laughs, though, are created via the situations and attitudes of the characters.
Streep dominates the movie, dwarfing her costars, including Kevin Kline as her ex-husband, Pete; Audra McDonald as Maureen, the stepmother who has capably filled Ricki’s place as nurturer; and Rick Springfield as Greg, Ricki’s bandmate and boyfriend.
Diablo Cody’s script is a bit sketchy about Ricki’s motivation for abandoning her family. It is implied that she never hit the big time, despite cutting a record album.
The film would have you believe that she loved her music so much that she would prefer playing with her cover band in dives and living on minimum wage than being with her children and watching them grow.
The audience, because of Streep’s performance, readily accepts this feat of legerdemain. Streep wails on the guitar and belts out her rock songs with gusto. Her eyes shine and her smile widens when she performs, and you come to realize why she made the sacrifices she did.
It wasn’t for the money or the fame. The music — the notes and cords, the guitar riffs — those are her true family.
And while the film’s finale does, in typical mainstream Hollywood fashion, wrap everything in a neat bow, you come to understand — if not approve — of Ricki’s life choices.
That is a demonstration of Streep’s power and intensity as an actor. While you may not applaud Ricki, you can easily cheer for Streep.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

RICKI AND THE FLASH
3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), adult themes, sexual situations, drug use, language

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