Ricki (Meryl Streep) used to be Linda, a long time ago, but she used to be a lot of things a long time ago, like married, a mother, responsible... OK, maybe not that last thing. Now she leads a bar band in California, performing cover versions of hits old and not-so-old for the bunch of people who can be bothered to show up, though whether they’re present to hear the music or whether they would be there anyway, for a drink, is another matter. Ricki's boyfriend Greg (Rick Springfield) plays lead guitar and sings backing vocals for her, but for the first time in decades she might have to meet her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) when she hears bad news about her daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer)...
And she hasn't seen her daughter, nor her two sons, in decades either, so you get the idea, irresponsible parent and has been for ages before the plot of the film begins. But pay attention to the bar band part of the story, as that would become very significant, maybe not to you watching but certainly to Meryl Streep since it gave her another chance to show off her pipes when she belted out various rock numbers that were delivered in an appropriately rock voice, forceful, a little gravelly: should that be spelled rawk instead? Anyway, it would seem a combination of singing yet again and working with her daughter Gummer once again were the chief attractions for the megastar here.
Whether they were any kind of attractions for you was another matter, because Streep's voice may have been acceptable for more traditional showtunes or light pop, but she was showing off some limitations when tackling Bruce Springsteen, surprising for an actress who was so famous for her versatility and overall dedication to her roles. If that was the best Ricki could do, no wonder she never made it big, is what is going through your mind, though to be fair that could have been the point, but it wasn't all music anyway, a blessing when the tunes were obvious choices that may have been played live but other than that failed to get the blood pumping when The Flash launched into an overbearing rendition of Drift Away or whatever.
So what was there apart from the music? Thanks to an off-form Diablo Cody's script, lots of familial tensions, presented in a suffocating, negative fashion that was offputting from the moment Ricki flies out to be with Julie in Indianapolis to be with her when the daughter's marriage breaks down. She is living with Pete and his wife Maureen (Audra McDonald), who brought up Ricki's children, and no sooner has her real mother arrived than we hear she has attempted suicide, as if this wasn't as hard to take as it already was, and Ricki's presence may be making Julie worse as she tries to cheer her up in between facing up to her failings as a parent. Director Jonathan Demme was well known for tackling relationships with some skill, but that deserted him here when being around these characters for an hour and a half was very wearing.
This was supposed to be a comedy too, but the drama was so overwhelming that any potential laughs were extinguished by the low smog of gloom hanging over everyone and it seemed our anti-heroine was purely to blame for that. That's a lot to place on any character's shoulders, so Cody had to write her as a caricature of irresponsibility to make it even halfway believable that one woman could have such a detrimental effect on so many lives, and though Streep predictably found the correct pitch to deliver the performance, the fact remained if none of these people could stand to be around Ricki (even Greg struggles at times) then where did that leave us hoping for a little entertainment? That after all that angst and misery, unleavened by attempts at humour or tries at generating sympathy for Ricki's hard luck tale, there was the very epitome of a false uplift ending with, you guessed it, a big dollop of singing and dancing which somehow made everything better in spite of the music being the most strained and joyless rock imaginable, showed some cheek, at least.
American director with a exploitation beginnings who carved out a successful Hollywood career as a caring exponent of a variety of characters. Worked in the early 70s as a writer on films like Black Mama, White Mama before directing his first picture for producer Roger Corman, the women-in-prison gem Caged Heat. Demme's mainstream debut was the 1977 CB drama Handle With Care (aka Citizens Band), which were followed by such great films as the thriller Last Embrace, tenderhearted biopic Melvin and Howard, wartime drama Swing Shift, classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, and black comedies Something Wild and Married to the Mob.
Demme's Thomas Harris adaptation The Silence of the Lambs was one of 1991's most successful films, making Hannibal Lecter a household name, while the worthy AIDS drama Philadelphia was equally popular. Since then, Demme has floundered somewhat - Beloved and The Truth About Charlie were critical and commercial failures, although 2004's remake of The Manchurian Candidate was a box office hit. Rachel Getting Married also has its fans, though Meryl Streep vehicle Ricki and the Flash was not a great one to go out on. He was also an advocate of the documentary form, especially music: his final release was a Justin Timberlake concert.