Of all the parts Meryl Streep has played on screen—nun, nuclear activist, pill-popping matriarch, Prada-clad editrix—she’s never been credited as a magician. But that’s essentially what she does in every film she appears in: sprinkle the pixie dust of her ineffable Streep-ness over even the most banal scripts and underwritten roles. Ricki and the Flash isn’t a great movie; its archetypes are tired and its plot turns textbook. But she commits utterly to Ricki, an aging free spirit attempting to reconnect with her three adult children years after leaving them behind to pursue rock stardom. That sacrifice hasn’t landed her much beyond a dumpy L.A. apartment, a weekly gig cranking out Tom Petty covers for drowsy barflies in Tarzana, and a sweet but equally broke boyfriend-slash-bandmate (Rick Springfield). When a family emergency calls her back to Indiana, she can barely afford the ticket, and it’s clear how poorly she fits into the Midwestern propriety of her old life; with her thumb rings, spiky side braids, and smudged eyeliner, she looks like Stevie Nicks’ insolvent sister.
Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Diablo Cody, both Oscar winners, have made far better films. Still, Ricki raises smart questions about why a mother’s musical ambitions are so much more selfish than, say, seven-time dad Mick Jagger’s, and even the shamelessly corny sing-along finale wrings a few real tears out. Or maybe it’s just the pixie dust. B–