She was Julia Child. She was Margaret Thatcher. She was Mamma Mia. And now Meryl Streep is Ricki Rendazzo, aging, nearly bankrupt rock singer living uneasily with a big consequential choice she made along the way—career over family (trailer). Her band, The Flash, plays the modest Salt Well bar in Tarzana, California, but they rock it. We already knew Streep could sing, and for this film she spent six months learning how to play guitar, coached by Neil Young (video). Ricki’s lead guitarist Greg is played by Rick Springfield, and you can feel his longing to be more to her, if she’d let him.
Back home in Indiana, her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) is dealing with their daughter Julie, abandoned by her two-timing husband, now depressed, and suicidal. He calls Linda—Ricki is her stage name—to let her know, and she scrapes together enough money to fly back to see what she can do. Precious little, it appears—a classic case of too little, many years too late. Mother and daughter struggle to reconnect, and it isn’t easy or even certain. Julie is played beautifully by Streep’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer. (In profile, the two have exactly the same nose.)
Some excruciatingly wonderful scenes, including a fancy-restaurant “family dinner” with all three of Ricki’s kids, where accusations are the main course. Julie’s seething glare could burn holes in a flimsier construction than Ricki. The pain and even humor of the situation are so sharp, you know no matter who gets the check, they’ve already paid.
And, here’s something unexpected. The parents act like grown-ups. Pete, his second wife Maureen (Audra McDonald), even Ricki and Greg—show business types of whom not much is expected, perhaps—show what they’re made of when it really matters.
Director Jonathan Demme keeps the film moving with no unnecessary drag and made the great choice of putting lifelong musicians in the band, including Funkadelic keyboarder Bernie Worrell, bassist Rick Rosas, and drummer Joe Vitale. They performed all the movie’s songs live and with no overdubs—Springfield calls this brave of Streep, especially. Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody wrote the script.
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating 62%, audiences 55%. I thought audiences would be kinder to it than the critics. The big complaint seems to be the script is predictable, but since there are only what, six plots . . .? it may in retrospect be predictable, but I didn’t especially feel that while I was watching, and it was never that corollary of predictable, boring! As Glenn Kenny says in his mostly positive review (didn’t like the ending) for RogerEbert.com, “One of the nicer things about the movie is how it avoids overt clichés while still partaking of convention.”