Rock of Ageing
A depressed Ricki Randazzo (Meryl Streep), front woman lead guitarist-singer for the Flash (named for Britain’s the Clash?), aka Linda Brummel, bemoans her ageing thickening body. Lover-bandmate Greg Sandoval (mostly TV’s Rick Springfield, two months younger than the star) lays bare his own familial demons, sets her straight on parental obligations, and thus turns Ricki and the Flash towards an unsurprising ending.
Like previous Diablo Cody scenarios, this one points to a life message but turns out popcorn, watchable but forgettable once the music stops and lights go up. The surprises are that a) Jonathan Demme took it on and, more, b) that Meryl Streep came on as the black-clad half-dreadlocked titular “guitar heroine.” (One suspects that at sixty-six the triple Oscar winner sees some of herself herein, and also enjoys repeating The Homesman’s working with daughter Mamie Gummer.)
Perhaps, too, there was the symmetrical serendipity of working once more with Kevin Kline, alongside whom she won her first Best Actress Academy Award, for 1982 Sophie’s Choice, done while she was pregnant with Mamie.
In the California San Fernando Valley, the Flash has been the Salt Well bar’s house band for years, has a faithful following of locals, doesn’t make a lot of money but enjoys covering old rock ‘n’ roll, and all five members get along smoothly behind second guitarist Greg and Ricki.
A phone call from former husband Pete Brummel (Kline) brings her unwillingly back to Squaresville Indianapolis, where daughter Julie (Gummer) needs her and, Ricki learns upon arrival, attempted suicide over her husband’s leaving for another woman. To go the whole hog on issues to resolve, not only is the self-pitying young woman angry with the world and particularly her mother, but her two brothers are testy with the absentee returnee, too, with one of them about to marry nice but stiff Emily (Hailey Gates) and the other, gay (as Josh and Adam, Sebastian Stan and Nick Westrate).
Penni- and plastic-less even with a day job as cashier, the prodigal mother is struck by the sprawling baronial mansion and grounds of her ex-, who keeps weed in the refrigerator for times of stress but is not seen to work at all and is awfully lightweight for such a Midas touch. They spar verbally a bit but click again nicely amidst snapshots of the current family. To the film’s great and unique credit, absolutely zero is made of the fact that second wife “Mo” Maureen is African-American (record six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald). Daring further, her character is allowed to be rather unpleasant although right that it is she who has raised the three children and really been their mother while Linda irresponsibly ran off to the Left Coast to follow her musician dream. Even Pete’s tiny, demented mother Oma (Charlotte Rea) prefers free spirit Ricki to the uptight Mo.
Still in love with her, she feels, Pete is not the problem. Rather, it is Maureen, at first conveniently away tending to her demented dad, and the three grown children who logically resent the heroine’s absence, what they consider abandonment. The long lack of any contact or visits or presents, is a result of missed or at times misunderstood opportunities, though surely also of finances.
In such family-friendly TV-movie style, there is little doubt that Ricki will sort things out and bring all parties together while at the same time remaining true to her different-drummer inner self. She may be made to think a tad, and sweet gestures are needed from Greg and other rockers and bar people, but it ought to stick in the craw that past selfishness or irresponsibility is forgiven in a flash and that the woman is not only accepted back with open arms, but that she and her lifestyle get the staid Midwest to joyful rockin’ and tokin’ on the exquisite Middle America manicured lawn.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “R” for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language.)