We first meet Ricki (and the Flash) in a Californian bar where they perform Tom Petty’s American Girl to the boozing onlookers. The sequence is alive with the sound of fingers on strings, and convincing echoes and acoustic reactions that one would expect from the surrounding architecture. Meryl Streep’s own vocals fill your ears joyously and, most importantly, convincingly. Die hard rocker Linda has rebranded herself as Ricki and spends her time rocking out with her band, The Flash, residents at this particular watering hole. By day Ricki bags groceries in the local grocery chain. Everything is a performance for Ricki, be it her rock renditions of Lady Gaga or her abrupt attitude towards the wealthy conservatives she serves on her till. When she receives an unwanted and unexpected call from her ex-husband, Ricki is forced to face her past life as both Linda and as a mother. In the wake of her daughter’s marriage collapsing, Linda returns to her family whose lives she’s been absent from for decades. Returning to find she is unwelcome and despised by her children, Linda must address her past mistakes and question whether or not it’s too late to rebuild what was broken. Ricki and the Flash is about motherhood, gender roles and family. It’s about sacrifice and the dangers of it.
It’s tough to like anybody in this chaotic family, least of all Linda. Yet, director Jonathan Demme and writer Diablo Cody treat her with sensitivity and understanding. A wannabe rock star who gave up the most precious things returns home to realise she’s missed out on a whole lot of life: that’s the bare-bones of Ricki and the Flash, yet both writer and director attempt to show us Linda’s fear, stubbornness, guilt and selfishness – a complex being that Streep magnificently brings to life. Linda is a contradiction – posing as a liberal rock star but who votes republican and who struggles to understand her son’s homosexuality. Streep looks, is and sounds great, as do the band’s live sets but nothing else in Ricki and the Flash has much substance. Even Kevin Kline can’t save us, here. This movie lacks sincerity in its plot, its people and its progress. As time passes, the contradictions, predictability and conventional developments come out to play. It’s great to spend time in the company of Streep and her feminine, angst-filled Bruce Springsteen covers but Ricki and the Flash lands somewhere in between Rock of Ages and August: Osage County; not a place anyone wants to find themselves. Failing to capture the fun of the first and the grit of the second, Ricki and the Flash drifts alone in no man’s land; soon to be a distant memory.
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