Promoted as “Meryl Streep’s best performance in years” and “Meryl Streep at her absolute best”, I wonder why this movie was never shown in a cinema here. I had been looking forward to this movie since I read newspaper articles about it in the middle of last year. I’m so glad that a copy of the DVD was on the library shelf when I visited last week.
The gist of the story is that Ricki (Meryl Streeep) is a hard-rocking singer and guitarist who made a world of mistakes as she followed her dreams of rock-and-roll stardom. Returning home, she gets a shot at redemption and a chance to make things right as she faces the music with her family.
The movie opens with Ricki performing American Girl (a 1977 song) with her band, The Flash at a dive bar in San Fernando Valley, when she got a call from her ex-husband Peter that their daughter Julie (played by Mamie Grummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter in real life) is falling to pieces because her husband is divorcing her.
It is only when Ricki arrives at the Brummel estate in Indianpolis that we learn that her real name is Linda, and that she’s had to give up a lot of special things to become a rock star. The first question to ask here (and, indeed, throughout the movie) is: Why can’t Linda/Ricki have two dreams (family and music)?
It is a rare occasion that the family – Peter, Linda, Julie and her two brothers – all get together. There are many issues and personality clashes, but which family doesn’t have it? (Even those in close proximity.) A mother can be alienated from the family, and it doesn’t matter if the children love her, but it’s her job to love them as a mother can fill up the hole in the family.
I like that the story is original, emotional and wildly entertaining, with a lot of humour. I like the idea of being an artiste and a female and constantly having to believe in the artistic ideals with the responsibilities. How does one get to be a mother while still pursuing what’s important to her? What is failure? Is it having big dreams that don’t really work out? (To pay her bills, Ricki has to make a living as a team member at a Total Foods store.)
Yet Ricki is the one who manages to get her suicidal daughter out of the rut, turn her negative thoughts around and help her get better. She is also able to embrace her ‘replacement’ (whom her ex-husband married when Ricki walked out of the family) despite years of having her relationship with her children poisoned.
Above all, what I like best about this movie is the music. Besides the three dozen or so songs featured, there is also a gentle harp solo and soothing classical music by a trio of violin, viola and cello at the garden wedding of one of Ricki’s sons at the magnificent colossal Brummel estate.
All the music used here are appropriate and well- chosen; for eg, loud music over thumping footsteps, dance music over hair shampooing, new age music over a manicure/pedicure session and a slow ballad at an emotional scene. To top it all, Meryl Streep is incredibly good as a rocker (both in her singing and guitar-playing). She must have sung at least nine songs (Bad Romance, Keep Playing, Come On Come On, I Have Climbed The Highest Mountains, Wooly Bully, Drift Away, My Love Will Not Let You Down and Let’s Work Together) live, playing a mean guitar; they are authentic, definitely no lip-synching or a double playing. Most notable is the song called Cold One, which is meant to be the song that Ricki thought would be her breakthrough into rock ‘n’ roll stardom and nobody picked up on. There are two versions of it.
This is one emotional movie that makes me laugh and want to rock out at the same time. It is life reflected in the specific of this story and it’s wildly entertaining. It’s about the mess of life and the real music of life: what it is when it falls down and loses rhythm and how to pick it up and bring it home.