Meryl Streep and Rick Springfield are on stage in a bar, characters by the name of Ricki and Greg in band named the Flash, covering the song American Girl by Tom Petty.
She sounds pretty cool. He sounds fine. Their bandmates (also notable pro musicians in real life, Joe Vitale on drums, Bernie Worrell on keyboard and Rick Rosas, may he RIP, on bass) are settling into the punch. Rock is classic. Great start. Then they stage-banter the tune to the happy crowd as a great one from 1977.
Holy crap, I think. My Wayback Machine really is getting way back. Really, though, that’s the point of Ricki and the Flash, written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jonathan Demme, and viewed this Saturday afternoon matinee showing in the Regal Cinema theater in the Shoppingtown Mall surrounded by my dear wife Karen and dozens of folks who also were there when Petty’s song was in the soundtrack to Fast Times at Ridgemont High and might be found at a bar dancing to it still now much like the graying but happy extras in the scenes flashing up there in front of us.
Time goes by so fast, and yet so much has happened.
Ricki at last takes that cellphone call she’s been ignoring from Indianapolis. It’s her ex with upsetting news. Daughter Julie is going through a rough patch. Her husband Max has ditched her for another woman, and she’s not reacting well.
Mom Linda jets back to help. Yes, in that life ditched long ago to chase LA rock dreams, she’d yet to become Ricki.
What unfolds is a story sad and strong, well-told, well-played, and, well, familiar in this American society of split-ups and the new family dynamics that result.
Director Demme lets little wild things slip out from Ricki’s personality back in Linda’s world, but certainly nothing like Something Wild, his classic fish-out-of-family-familiar-water film. He’s left that violence and really far-out relationship crap back with Ray Liotta, Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels in 1986.
Instead we get a rollercoaster ride of emotional turmoil between mother and daughter, and two sons, and a former spouses, and aging rockers and new lovers.
The chemistry between all of them works, with a sweet and funny scene between Streep and Kline revolving around some “medicinal” pot and stored memories, and a group restaurant dinner that couldn’t be more at the point of True Confessions meets We Gotta Get Outta This Place. The best one-one-one scenes, no surprise, are between Streep and Mamie Gummer, the perfect choice to play Julie, being her daughter in real life and all.
Just when fences seem to be taking that plywood to patch the old hole, the replacement wife/mother played by Audra McDonald returns from a trip to tend to her failing father, and, poof to Linda and back to LA Ricki goes.
Here things slow a bit while she sorts out her feeling toward Greg and he proves how smart he may be, but Demme scores major points with a finale that puts it all into a fine focus, for all generations.
No spoiler I, but I will allow that the scene includes my now favorite cover of a Bruce Springteen song ever.
And a few tears tumbled from my seen-a-lot eyes.