Here’s an admission. Of all the twisting and twitching folk who boogie to Mama Mia! in our TV room every bastard Christmas Eve, old Jack is the one who doesn’t believe in Meryl Streep. I know – sacrilege. The first time it was torn from me, having misplaced a scowl in 2010, Mad Maud looked fit to bite me in the face. Good news – she’d just had half a bowel removed, so couldn’t get to me. So, yeah, Streep isn’t wholly believable in Mama Mia! and now I have to watch it every Christmas Eve until I know better. I only have the sweet promise of death to free me from Maud’s demands – and the simple fact that Streep’s sense of joy in that film is as forced as fuck. Now…get her doing music and angst…
I have seen Ricki and the Flash. Young Steve brought it in, keen to make the point that Jonathan Demme‘s last drama was a touching mélange of his dramatic work and his music stuff. Steve, like Maud, got grumpy when I saw the saccharine trailer and Meryl Streep blasting out rock classics in her sixties. I made it to the door before they got my elbows and dragged me back.
And…what can I say?
Be of better grace than I. For this film is a good one, not brilliant, but good. It stands at the end of a plank, over waters filled with domestic soap, dramatic clichés and extraordinary naffness. But it doesn’t fall. Instead, it plays out a faintly unbelievable but rather sweet domestic story, talks to the regret of those that pursue and ne’er quite reach their dreams, the price others pay, and has Streep banging out a series of rock classics with grunge, growls and proper quality. Music and angst, my friends…
Streep is Ricki – real name Linda. She dumped her family years ago and now spends her nights with a band in a bar keeping rocking oldsters on their toes. It’s a place of joy, but career disappointment. The Flash, her band, are terrific. Which isn’t the greatest of surprises given Demme put together a set of ancient rockers to support Streep – who moves from caricature to believably sober Joanna Lumley (that’s a Patsy reference, dumbass) in about ten minutes.
And then things get real and colon-proddingly awkward. For her ex husband, the crazily successful and comically uptight Kevin Kline as Pete, calls her to come help their recently abandoned daughter, Julie. Streep offspring Mamie Gummer plays the daughter, unnervingly akin to her mum, but full of spite, rage, depression and suicidal redemption. She also doesn’t wash, so it’s a terrific success when Ricki gets Julie cleaned up and trimmed. There are more kids – an affianced son (Sebastian Stan) and a gay son (Nick Westrate) – who combine in a hideous shouting match in a restaurant; but Gummer wins the entertaining prize. These kids are all pissed at Ricki for deserting them, although Pete subsequently married Audra McDonald’s Maureen, who pitches up a lot later to be more grown-up than anyone in the family. Despite the step-mum being terrific, the house magnificent and their lives largely set for bubbliness and love, the family shouts a lot. At Ricki.
And that’s it really. The relationships are a mess. Ricki wasn’t going to get an invite to the son’s wedding; gay son labours his gayness like it’s the 1950s (albeit Ricki’s views do seem a tad right-wing); and Ricki has an on-off relationship with band mate Greg, including some flinch-worthy on-stage petulance. Greg is played with wiry veracity by resurrected rocker Rick Springfield.
All the surface rage doesn’t destroy who these people are or any of their underlying bonds. Indeed the performances – huddled like ducklings round their star – make for fun, funny, sometimes quite tart moments. But cuddliness is plainly, always on the way.
And perhaps that’s why I like Ricki and the Flash. Ricki has a crappy job, crappy flat, terrific band – life went badly. But the somewhat pat story beneath is heartening. And the lessons of middle-age run through it: for all our mistakes, keep trying, and keep loving one another, and things’ll be okay. Redemption is everything. Oh – and if you have a singer in the family, invite her to the wedding for fuck’s sake.
I’m making a bid for this next Christmas Eve. Maud be damned.