For better or worse, I hold Meryl Streep movies to a higher standard than the rest. Meryl Streep has become her own synonym for being a superb, kick-ass actress. She’s really the best we’ve got, and so you naturally want her to be good every time, and for the movie she’s in to be an appropriate vehicle. This one’s not.
On paper, it sounded almost promising: a young woman is devastated by the breakup of her marriage, and so her estranged mother who left the family to pursue a life of rock and roll is called in for back up. Might be fun to watch Meryl rock out, be a bit of a badass. We’ve heard Meryl sing show tunes (Into the Woods), disco (Mama Mia), country (A Prairie Home Companion) and the blues (Postcards from Reality). Why not rock? And why not throw in some stuff on aging, motherhood, second chances, redemption. Cast Meryl’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer (what a name to be saddled with!) and 80s pop relic Rick Springfield, and voila: a movie that practically makes itself. Right?
In reality: kind of a bore, kind of a chore.
We need to talk about Diablo Cody. She’s the wunderkind who gave us Juno, the hyper-verbal, weirdly anti-abortion, high school pregnancy film that took Hollywood by storm. But that was so 2007. Her attempts to replicate success have been…well, lackluster: Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, and now this. I know it’s hard to let go, Hollywood, but like the only Rick Springfield hit you can name (Jessie’s Girl), it’s time to call Diablo Cody what she is: a one-hit wonder.
I kind of liked Meryl as Ricki, but I didn’t like Ricki, and nobody else should have either. Not her family, certainly. Rick Springfield (of all people) tells her early on: “It doesn’t matter if your kids love you or not. It’s not their job to love you. It’s your job to love them.” That feels like a full-circle moment – you know, that little piece of wisdom in a film that will eventually come back to our protagonist at the moment of truth so we can see how far she’s come. Yeah, someone should tell Diablo about that. Because what actually happens is: Ricki leaves her kids, again. Wallows in self-pity. Comes back only when someone else extends an olive branch and someone else makes a sacrifice, and even then, she manages to make someone else’s special day all about her. Character development? Growth? Um. Not here. But what we do get is a scintillating Diablo simile in which a human heart is compared to a Big Mac – you know, because neither ever spoils (?).
Meryl is great, and I enjoyed Kevin Kline as the ex-husband and Audra McDonald as the new wife and replacement mother, though found her criminally underused. Nothing against Meryl, obviously, but Audra’s a huge Broadway star so it felt a little odd to have her in a non-singing role in such a song-heavy movie. But the songs are only there to attempt to bring some cohesiveness to a movie that otherwise feels like a bunch of random scenes that felt like good ideas but had no real raison d’etre. The tone is…I’m waffling between inconsistent and non-existent. Am I feeling generous? Enh, not really.
I was bored, and I was frustrated. Is it an adequate time-waster? I suppose. It’s minimally offensive, although now that I think of it, Ricki is a Bush supporter, ostensibly because she “supports the troops” (there’s something to that, but we never really find out what – my hunch: cutting room floor) and opposes gay marriage (because people who abandon their children are paragons of family values) but in fact she also complains about the unlivable minimum wage which means she can’t afford to shop at the grocery store she works at. How and why is an aging rocker who dresses like a hooker at night court so goddamned conservative? Your guess is as good as mine. But is it all worth it just to hear Streep cover both Springstein AND Lady Gaga? Just maybe.