OUT OF TUNE

Meryl Streep has earned the right to be watched in anything she’s in, which is good because she’s just about the only thing worth watching in the shallow and pedantic Ricki and the Flash. Here’s a film that’ll get cinefiles excited with a solid cast, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) directing and Diablo Cody (Juno) writing the script, and yet it squanders its considerable opportunity with predictable drivel. Just about everyone involved in this project is better than what they show here, easily making this a movie for all the world to skip.

Streep plays Ricki Randazzo, a mother of three who 20 years ago decided life on the road with a rock ’n’ roll cover band was more important than staying at home and being a mom. Her life now consists of playing cover songs at a half-empty dive bar by night and working as a grocery store cashier by day. In the game of life, most would agree she’s lost.

Ricki’s ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), father of her children, has moved on to marry African-American Maureen (Audra McDonald), who’s been the loving and attentive mother Ricki never was. Josh (Sebastian Stan) and Adam (Nick Westrate) are the sons; Josh is engaged to Emily (Hailey Gates) and seems well-adjusted, while Adam hates his mother with bitter passion. But the reason Ricki returns home after a phone call from Pete is their daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter), who’s a total mess because her husband just left her for another woman. (Aside: Gummer’s performance is entertaining, but how daunting it must be to try to emerge from Streep’s shadow and pave her own acting path!) Ricki didn’t go to Julie’s wedding, but at least the bad-example mother of the year is around for the divorce.

One reason three-time Oscar winner Streep is so great is because of how much she gives her fellow actors. A glance here, a pinch on the cheek there, and even a reaction to what someone says signifies validation and respect for her cast mates which, coming from Streep, has to mean the world. One person who especially benefits from working opposite Streep is Rick Springfield, the “Jessie’s Girl” singer-turned-actor who reaches levels of unexpected emotional poignancy. In fact, a movie about Springfield’s Greg, the guitarist in Ricki’s band who’s also in love with her, and Ricki coming to terms with where they are in life probably would’ve been more interesting than this one.

For all that Streep brings to her movies, though, Cody’s story has nothing new or interesting to say, and Demme’s directing is woefully plain. We’ve seen the estranged parent come home to an unwelcoming reception many times, and the chaotic messes of her children’s lives only add to the artificial obstacles to overcome before the foregone conclusion is reached. It’s so basic and simple, it’s shocking filmmakers of this caliber didn’t realize more was needed to give us something we’d actually want to see.

The soundtrack is littered with classic and modern pop hits — Bruce Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down,” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl” — most of which are sung by Streep and Springfield. But even feel-good familiarity and Streep’s presence can’t salvage this wasted effort. Maybe she should’ve sung TP’s “Even the Losers” instead.

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