As an actor, Meryl Streep is incapable of making false moves. That doesn't mean she's incapable of making false movies.
This doesn't happen often but when it does, like the schizoid musical dramedy Ricki and the Flash, it hurts. Especially when the project obviously means much to Streep, co-starring with her daughter Mamie Gummer for the first time, playing her mother, and loving to sing.
Initially the combination works, in what amounts to a reversal of role and fortune from Streep's earlier mother-daughter pressure cooker, Postcards from the Edge. This time Streep's Ricki Randazzo is a show biz grinder, not a star by a long shot, fronting an L.A. dive bar band alongside her boyfriend (Rick Springfield, still Hard to Hold).
Ricki gets word that her daughter Julie (Gummer) is having an emotional breakdown after her husband's desertion. Despite their long estrangement, Julie needs her mother, who has problems of her own and more on the way. Ricki returns to Indianapolis and the family she left behind to pursue her rock and roll fantasy.
Streep attacks this role as she's evidently programmed to do, armed with heavy eye shadow, 80's leather and tacky side-braided hair. Ricki's introduction belting a Tom Petty classic sets the stage for Streep as a low-Raitt survivor, learning Lady Gaga in order to remain that way.
Gummer is equally impressive, a deadpan hot mess finding her emotional footing, until screenwriter Diablo Cody inexplicably shoves Julie to the sidelines. There is too much more resentment to be piled upon Ricki by her sons (one getting married, the other gay), her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) and his new wife (Audra McDonald). Not to mention a needlessly long stretch back in L.A. where the interesting stuff isn't happening.
Nothing on paper prepares viewers for this movie's aimless nature, directed by an Academy Award winner (Jonathan Demme), written by another (Cody), and a star with more Oscars than the two combined. They're not the sort of artists who should be flailing for happy endings by selling glorified karaoke at movie ticket prices.
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