Shameless Boomer-bait that — judging by the audience I saw it with — seems to work on its target crowd. I both do and don’t understand this, despite being in the demographic. I suppose it’s kind of a grungy distaff version of Danny Collins, but it’s nowhere near as appealing — or funny or much of anything. At best, Ricki and the Flash is a schmaltzy feel-good mediocrity where the major selling point is Meryl Streep as an aging rocker (as if Mamma Mia! wasn’t enough of Streep and pop music). It isn’t very funny and its assaults on the tear ducts are ham-handed and, for me at least, missed the mark at almost every turn. Even with all the generosity I can muster, the best I can say is that the film is largely innocuous and probably harmless.
The problems almost entirely stem from Diablo Cody’s sloppy and sometimes downright bizarre screenplay. This is no Juno (2007), nor is it Young Adult (2011). Hell, it’s not even Jennifer’s Body (2009). This is a tone-deaf mess of more than passing mawkishness. The whole concept of Streep’s rocker Ricki Rendazzo (real name: Linda Brummel) is awkward to say the least. She’s not a rock star. She’s an aging would-be rock star with a similarly never-made-it aging band. They play other people’s (mostly borderline) hits in a movie-sleazy Tarzana, California, bar to a very small audience of faithful barflies, who apparently dote on Ricki’s bad hairstyle and adequate musical talents. For reasons the film never makes clear, develops or makes use of, Ricki is also the Ted Nugent of bar-band rockers — a card-carrying Tea Party adherent (with a “Don’t tread on me” flag tattooed on her back), who almost opens the film by denouncing Obama. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s supposed to be connected to her mourning a brother who died in Vietnam, whose existence is established in one line and one shot of a memorial in her apartment? Like most things in the film, this is not explored.
The plot — such as it is — is about Ricki going “home” to the family she abandoned years and years ago in favor of pursuing her dreams of being a rock star. The reasons behind this trip are grounded in Ricki’s daughter Julie (played by Streep’s real daughter Mamie Gummer) having become suicidal because her husband dumped her. Why does Julie’s ex-husband Pete (an unnaturally dull Kevin Kline) call Ricki? Well, it’s supposedly because his second wife (Audra McDonald) — who actually raised Julie — is off tending her ailing father. The reality, of course, is it drives the wheezy plot on its path to unearned redemption and spurious sentimentality.
Overall, the movie makes very little sense. Ricki presumably fled something like the upscale lifestyle she returns to, but she approaches it like someone who’s never seen indoor plumbing before. She has no clue how to handle herself in this society, and you’re left to conclude that this society hasn’t glimpsed the outside world since Hair first frightened the horses. Presumably, Ricki is just too cool to care, but she’s mostly just embarrassing. That frankly describes much of the film. Ms. Gummer plays her role as the dumped wife like she thinks she’s still in last year’s The Homesman — a zombified glazed look with flashes of anger. Streep herself is mostly being given the “She does what she can” pass — a disingenuous stance to take with an actress too powerful to have to do any such thing. Honestly, the best thing in the movie is Rick Springfield as Streep’s long-suffering, love-struck guitarist, and considering the amassed talent, that’s not something that should be happening. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language.