The most perplexing fact about “Ricki and the Flash” is that director Jonathan Demme essentially filmed this story once before — except it was actually good the first time.

Demme’s terrific 2008 film “Rachel Getting Married” was also a drama about ensuing tension when an estranged family member returns home for a pivotal wedding. Heck, both films even feature musical numbers. So what went so wrong with this one?

Start with the title character, Ricki (Meryl Streep), a washed-up middle-aged rocker who deserted her Midwestern family years ago to pursue a music career in Los Angeles. When her daughter (Mamie Gummer) attempts suicide, Ricki is pulled home to assist. Screenwriter Diablo Cody makes Ricki a pile of clichés, some of them bizarrely haphazard (Ricki’s conservative politics are harped upon early, then forgotten entirely).

Early Oscar buzz circulated for Streep’s transformative role in “Ricki,” but it’s sure to dissipate once audiences and Oscar voters get a real look at the performance. Streep’s a great actress, and she sells some key emotional moments here, but her performance is almost all overblown affectations. The character is cartoonish and Streep plays her accordingly.

The film’s narrative beats are similarly slapdash. Ricki won’t commit to her bandmate boyfriend (Rick Springfield), and then she does. Her family hates her, and then they don’t. The redemption in the film’s ending rings utterly hollow because we have no idea why or how anyone changed.

The faults in “Ricki” are mostly all attributable to Cody, who’s written great movies like “Juno,” but here adds one to her dud pile. Streep may have just been looking for some variety and an Oscar. But why is Demme, the great director of “The Silence of the Lambs,” wasting his time on this? Well, he’s spent the last few years of his career on an Ibsen adaptation and not one, but two, documentaries about Neil Young. Maybe, like Ricki, he just needed a paycheck.

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

‘Ricki and the Flash’


Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief drug content, sexuality and language

Running time: 102 minutes

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