Last night, we suffered through Zac Efron suffering as pretty boy DJ with no club to call home in We Are Your Friends. And tonight in Ricki and the Flash, Meryl Streep (!) channels her inner Joan Jett as a rocker who flees her Hoosier home in pursuit of guitar god glory in the City of Angels, achieving neither top 40 success nor familial respect in the tortuous/torturous process.
Directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), Streep’s is the better film, though by a narrow margin (believe it or not – both flicks are worthwhile and an interesting double feature).
As a rock star, Streep with her bizarre hair braids and unconvincing tattoos is about as believable as I would be playing, say, Axl Rose.
As a failed rock star, whose abject heartbreak and hand-to-mouth hardscrabble anxiety are telegraphed in every blink of her limpid eyes and whose well-heeled Indianapolis-based family has given her the “Hoosier Hospitality” cold shoulder for their perceived abandonment by her decades earlier, she is pure movie gold.
In another era, the sudsy plot – with a side of Freudian mama bashing – would have been a B-movie tear-jerking barn-stormer for a Susan Hayward or a Bette Davis. A mother flies the coop on her three beatific babies and their hunky nebulously-though-fruitfully employed businessman papa (as played by Kevin Kline … who seems trapped in celluloid Indiana … wasn’t In & Out set in Greencastle of all places?). She lives in bohemian filth, playing nightly gigs at a sad-sack bar for the same half-dozen patrons, including a moony-eyed barkeep with a heart of gold. She loves/hates/loves the bassist in her band (a surprisingly charming and heartfelt Rick Springfield), and, one day, when her daughter’s husband walks out on her the way the mama had walked out on the family years prior, our heroine heads back to Indiana to set things right with her broken brood.
However, Demme and Streep both acknowledge they aren’t working with the deepest narrative here, and they bring their A-game, supported by an exceptional ensemble, that also includes a luminous Audra McDonald as Kline’s second wife, a clear-eyed feminist in Yuppie dragon lady clothing. Her limited scenes with Streep crackle with the energy of two women (in life and onscreen) who have fought and lost and won an endless series of skirmishes in ‘Murica’s ongoing gender wars. I would like an entire movie of the two of them just talking … or reading the phone book … or smacking stupid dudes upside their stupid heads.
Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer acquits herself reasonably well alongside her mom. She doesn’t have Streep’s impish energy or insidious inner-life. Gummer is saddled with a lot of bed-headed moping in the movie, but her chiefest strength is in the quiet observation she brings to each scene. She has her mother’s presence but it is calibrated to silence as opposed to activity. Interesting to watch.
The film resolves its central conflicts as you might expect – a little contrived and a lot predictable. Regardless, with Streep’s deft character work and that of her cast-mates, you are so invested in these mixed-up souls onscreen that, while you know exactly what’s coming, you can’t take your eyes away from the journey.
The purest moment of unadulterated authenticity occurs early in the film’s final act when Streep stops her band in the middle of their set and appeals to the female patrons of the bar as to how crappy it can be to be a woman and a mother in this society. She rails against a world where you “miss one kid’s concert, one play and you’re an awful mother for life. Men? You can get away with anything…but not us.” This moment, in conjunction with her recent spicy turn as the Witch in Into the Woods, represents Streep’s zone – declaring hard-earned truth with passion and fury as a woman, as a parent, as a person.
At the film’s conclusion (yes, set at a wedding – shocker), Streep serenades the crowd with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” She croons …
At night I go to bed
But I just can’t sleep
I got something runnin’ around my head
Ooh that just won’t keep
In the silence I hear my heart beatin’
Time slippin’ away
I got a time bomb tickin’ deep inside of me
Girl all I want to say
I keep searchin’ for you darlin’
Searchin’ everywhere I go
And when I find you there’s gonna be just one thing that you gotta know
One thing you gotta know
My love, love, love, love, love, love, will not let you down
My love, love, love, love, love, love, will not let you down
In part, she is singing to those who’ve judged her rightly and wrongly – her children, her former husband, his new wife, the snooty wedding guests – but ultimately she is (and always should be) singing for one person: herself.
love this so much…however is it “lambasts” instead of “lambastes”? and…” THEY way mama had walked out on the family years prior, mama heads back to Indiana to set things right with her broken brood…” (should THEY be THE?) and should “Mama” be capitalized? sorry to make those suggestions here, but FB acting nutsy…and somehow It fits the MAMA theme? ha! final sentence of paragraph six? immediately before “Oh, boy!” 😉 how fitting? and, of course I am deficient in capitalizing! LOL. truly adore this…and audra is in this? hoo-ray!
I appreciate how carefully you read these!! Thank you!! As for “lambaste” – this is what I found – I never knew this either? http://grammarist.com/spelling/lambast-lambaste/ And as for torturous vs. tortuous, I found this, so I did mean “torturous” – http://grammarist.com/usage/torturous-tortuous/
And “they” should most definitely have been “the” – argh! And I made some tweaks to the “mama” sentence, as no one ever actually calls her “Mama” – I was just using as a synonym for mother, so I worked around that. Love you!!
i love ms in most everything i’ve ever seen her, and after reading this, i’m interested to watch her daughter on the screen. i’m looking forward to it –
Let me know what you think!
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