Although Meryl Streep has starred in the highest-grossing musical of all time (Mamma Mia), you wouldn’t expect her to be belting out rock covers of Dobie Gray’s Drift Away or Bruce Springsteen’s My Love Won’t Let You Down.
Yet there she is as Ricki, up on the stage of down-at-heel bar in the San Fernando valley, rocking out her dreams every night with her band, The Flash, her hair done up like Joan Jet just got out of bed.
And yes, that is Rick Springfield accompanying her on guitar, although he’s not playing someone called Rick Springfield. He does play Ricki’s on/off lover, Greg.
They’re not a bad band at all, but success has been hard to come by. When Ricki suddenly gets a call from her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) she flies to Indiana to see the family she walked out on many years ago, to help her daughter Julie whose marriage has just fallen apart.
Julie is played my Mamie Gummer, Meryl’s real-life daughter, and the resemblance is striking, if not a little weird in fact – you mean there’s actually someone else on the planet who has that Meryl nose? Funny, we had Ice Cube’s son playing Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton last week, and now here’s a little Meryl Streep.
Anyway, there’s a kind of family reunion from hell in a restaurant where all the resentment comes out, but Meryl’s Ricki gives as good as she gets – you really believe she was right to walk out on her comfy family to pursue her rock dreams and squeeze into leather trousers.
The film, by Jonathan Demme, tos and fros and loses its zip. Meryl goes back to California, then she comes back to Indiana again. There’s some tender mother-daughter late bonding, but there’s also always a prickly edge. It’s a real curio of a film, for Demme and for Streep, part drama, part comedy, part soap opera, with karaoke.
Whatever the veering tone, Demme keeps things ticking over, Kline is not as insufferable as usual, and Streep is fabulous, even when being slightly ridiculous – she can find the humanity in any character, even an outlandish one, even a monstrous one or a ridiculous one. The film does end in a wedding (Demme’s Rachel Getting Married comes flashing back to mind), where ends are tied and story lines converge. It’s a bit clunky for someone as experienced as Demme, but he knows how to finish it and a big sing along works a reliable kind of old magic.