No matter how hard one tries to focus on Diablo Cody’s superb script or The Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme’s style, her performance dominates. The film is about a washed-out musician from the eighties, Ricki, played to magnificent perfection by Meryl Streep, who realises the time has come to “pay for yesterday when I was young” as the Charles Aznavour song would have it.
Not only has she left a trail of failed relationships on and off stage – and in several backrooms and bedrooms of rockers – but she has neglected her dysfunctional family. Now, at the end of her career in which she still tries to retain her youth through too much make-up, she is confronted by her family: a grim ex-husband, played by Kevin Kline, a daughter on the brink of suicide (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer is excellent), and her two sons – one gay – who form part of her emotional baggage. How she copes with them and the role her absence played in their lives, forms the focus of this enjoyable and courageous film.
But the film’s true charm lies in the way she brushes her problems off with a witticism or two, only to stop dead in her tracks as she realises what she has said and where her life is at the moment. Cody previously won great acclaim for her script for Juno. Her other films such as Paradise and Young Adult, let alone Jennifer’s Body, were less successful. But here Cody’s dialogue is spot-on, economical and free-flowing.
Just the way the characters talk around a restaurant table and spill their emotional neglect between the Scotch and the bread sticks, already make for some unique moments. One can see the absent mother or wife in all of them and her acid humour is evident in every line she speaks.
For anybody interested in visual shorthand, just the way Ricki walks through a metal detector at an airport, the way she sucks on a straw from a can, tell you exactly who she is. She is a washout character who has spilled over from a nether land of has-beens and is trying to find her place in a world that has evolved without her.
Ricki And The Flash may surprise you, but will never leave you unaffected. And it shows an actress at the top of her craft.