Like a cover band tackling a well-worn tune, “Ricki and the Flash” doesn’t sing you anything new or different, but instead tries to put its own spin on very familiar material.
Meryl Streep stars as Ricki Randazzo, a singer-songwriter eking out a living in southern California as a grocery store employee by day and barroom rocker by night. Having kept her bandmate and occasional lover Greg (Rick Springfield) at arm’s length, her laid-back life is shaken up when she learns of a family crisis back home in Indianapolis.
Ricki is really Linda Brummel, a suburban housewife whose dreams of rock stardom ripped her away from her family decades ago, leaving still-raw wounds. Her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), is trying to manage their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer), in the wake of her sudden divorce.
Thrust back into the conservative Midwest, Ricki/Linda struggles to find acceptance from her family while working through her own emotional turmoil.
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Films about family struggles and the challenges of parenthood are one of Hollywood’s most reliable exports, and despite its impressive pedigree — Ricki stars three-time Oscar winner Streep and is directed by another Oscar winner in Jonathan Demme, who is working from a screenplay authored by Oscar winner Diablo Cody — “Ricki and the Flash” can’t really transcend its Lifetime-ish limitations.
Not that the excellent cast doesn’t give it a try: Streep, no stranger to singing on screen, sells Ricki as a self-described “broken person,” while Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter, works to overcome her thinly written role.
Gummer isn’t alone. Just about every character, from Kline’s workaholic ex-husband to Nick Westrate’s out-and-proud son, Adam, suffers from an alarming lack of depth. Everyone has their moment of clarity when the narrative calls for it, and “Ricki” is more or less wrapped up in a big, saccharine bow.
The film roars to life too intermittently — an electrifying confrontation between Streep and Audra McDonald, playing Pete’s second wife, Maureen; a scene late in the film where Ricki and Greg convey their intense feelings for each other in the midst of performing Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” is deeply moving — but, sadly, too much of “Ricki and the Flash” is just the same old song.
RICKI AND THE FLASH
☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer
Director: Jonathan Demme
Run time: 1:41
Rating: PG-13 (thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language)