Ricki and the Flash 

 

Half

 

 

Meryl Streep delivers another tour-de-force as a disappointed, not terribly bright woman 

who still loves what she does best: singing.

 

Ricki and the Flash

   

Jonathan Demme’s funny and heart-breaking movie is stuffed with superlative performances, but there are really only two stars: Meryl Streep and the screenwriter Diablo Cody. Meryl Streep delivers another tour-de-force as a disappointed, not terribly bright woman who still loves what she does best: singing covers of the likes of The Stones, Springsteen and Edgar Winter, in a Los Angeles dive called The Salt Well. The actress has exhibited the power of her pipes in Mamma Mia! and Into the Woods (and Postcards From the Edge), but here she’s playing an actual rock star – in the tradition of Bonnie Raitt – and can execute a rock standard like a pro. But while Ricki Rendazzo still savours the on-stage camaraderie – and loves the attention she receives from her fans – she’s less comfortable in the family arena. This is where Diablo Cody comes in.

 

The scenarist – who’s already shown her ability to mine the dysfunctional family dynamic with her sublime scripts for Juno and Young Adult – has the talent to create plausible, flesh-and-blood characters while still producing laugh-out-loud dialogue (at a wedding Ricki is asked by a stranger: “How did you meet the groom?,” to which she deadpans: “Caesarean section.”). When Ricki’s daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter), suffers a breakdown, it is proposed by Julie’s father (Kevin Kline) that Ricki come and lend a maternal hand. After all, it’s been years since Ricki has seen any of her three adult children. And so the stage is set for a dramatic meltdown in the manner of Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County – except that Cody is too savvy to let any theatrics get in the way of real life.

 

As Ricki’s ex, Pete Brummell, Kevin Kline reins in his character’s anger and frustration with admirable restraint, giving his best performance in over a decade. But the screen really comes alive with the arrival of Ms Gummer, kick-starting a tension like a live wire jabbed to the chest. There are exceptional turns, too, from Audra McDonald as the stoical new Mrs Brummell, and Rick Springfield as Ricki’s co-singer and guitarist, Greg. But this is Meryl Streep’s show. She’s one of the few actresses around willing to let the camera zoom into her 66-year-old face – and who is prepared to play deeply flawed, unsympathetic characters. It’s hard to believe that this is the same human being who won an Oscar for playing Margaret Thatcher.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald, Sebastian Stan, Ben Platt, Rick Springfield, Hailey Gates, Bill Irwin, Diablo Cody.

 

Dir Jonathan Demme, Pro Mason Novick, Marc Platt, Gary Goetzman and Diablo Cody, Screenplay Diablo Cody, Ph Declan Quinn, Pro Des Stuart Wurtzel, Ed Wyatt Smith, Costumes Ann Roth.

 

Badwill Entertainment/Clinica Estetico/LStar Capital/Marc Platt Productions-Sony Pictures.

101 mins. USA. 2015. Rel: 4 September 2015. Cert. 12A.