Ricki sounded better on paper than on stage

Ricki sounded better on paper than on stage

‘Ricki and The Flash’

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline

Rated: PG-13

Directed by: Jonathan Demme


Among my suppressed-desire wishes, at about No. 3, is “rock star.” I admit it. Come on, you’ve dreamed of picking up a guitar and laying down a few licks while wailing into a mic. Oh, and don’t forget the super cool leather outfit that is de rigueur for a rock star.

Well if you’re Meryl Streep, one of the world’s finest actresses, you get to act on that fantasy. And let’s face it, after playing a concentration camp victim, Great Britain’s first female prime minister, and a host of other heavy parts, she’s entitled to have a little fun. But in “Ricki and the Flash,” she might be the only one.

Streep plays Ricki Rendazzo, aka Linda Brummell, once an Indianapolis housewife who abandoned her three kids and husband for the glamorous life of a rock star. Now 60-something, she lives in a crummy LA apartment working days as a checker at a Whole Foods-type grocery store. Her nights are spent on stage at a neighborhood bar where she and her band, The Flash, serve up cover after cover of hit pop songs including (groan) Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”

She has a tenuous romantic relationship with her guitar player (Rick Springfield), but she rarely sees her kids until her ex, Pete (Kevin Kline), calls to tell her their eldest daughter’s (Mamie Gummer) husband has left her and she’s needs her mother.

From that point until the credits roll, this is a completely predictable story, not to mention it’s such an anemic attempt to explore the complex family dynamic that it does no justice to the talent involved. The script comes from Diablo Cody, who a few years ago was one of the hottest scripters around, turning out hits like “Juno” and the TV series “The United States of Tara” — and now this. With the exception of a few great one-liner exchanges, mostly between Ricki and her daughter (Gummer is Streep’s her real daughter, in case you missed the overwhelming resemblance), the dialogue is as flat as a few of Streep’s notes.

The only standout scene is the inevitable family dinner where Ricki is reunited with her three adult children, and the barbs fly fast and furious. When the dust settles, it turns into a torpor that doesn’t lift until the last scene, which plays out like the awful “Motown moment” in Nancy Meyer movies. You know, the dreaded sing-a-long where all the characters get to act out their own suppressed rock star desires.

Streep, who is not afraid to take chances, silenced the critics in “Mamma Mia,” but her singing voice is better suited to Broadway schmaltz rather than Bruce Springsteen. The worst of this is the song “Cold One,” a kind of ballad written by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice especially for Streep and this movie. We’re treated to two versions — acoustical and full band — and trust me, one would have been plenty. Where’s Lady Gaga when you need her?

I can’t fault the execution by director Jonathan Demme, a veteran who, along with Streep, seems way too polished to be mixed up with this. So maybe it sounded better on paper. Attaching Demme and Streep to the project and bringing on Gummer would have guaranteed a green light, but it would have played better as an HBO in-house movie rather than a feature.

Ricki may have her own band, but not much flash.