We all saw how well Meryl Streep can sing in Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion. As Ricki, an ageing rocker who never quite made the big time, she is reduced to working as a checkout chick by day and maintaining the dream at night with her superannuated band, The Flash. The boys, with ex-pat Aussie Rick Springfield on lead guitar, are as tight as, and you can’t help but be caught up in the exuberance of Streep’s performance (I loved their take on Canned Heat’s classic Let’s Work Together). That these bar scenes are far and away the movie’s best should come as no surprise, for director Jonathan Demme has few peers when it comes to filming musos (his Heart of Gold is a towering benchmark). The other half of the story, dealing with yet another rich man’s dysfunctional family, is lamentable stodge. Pete (an unusually insipid Kevin Kline) is Ricki’s divorced husband and father of their three grown-up children.
There’s a churlish daughter who has just been dumped by her partner, a son who wants to keep secret from Ricki the arrangements for his wedding and, inevitably, a gay son with his own resentments. Ricki flies to Pete’s Indiana mansion on screenwriter Diablo Cody’s slenderest pretext and ruffles feathers, gets stoned with Pete and, surprise surprise, breaks down the daughter’s hate-wall. While doing this, with one side of her hair in long skinny plaits, Streep indulges in an uncanny imitation of Johnny Depp pretending to be Keith Richards. If you are familiar with Radio National’s Life Matters, an hour of hand-wringing, bloated emotional ‘issues’ talk, you’ll have some idea of how tiresome and clichéd it is – right down to the get-together that turns loud and nasty in the crowded restaurant. Even Ann Roth, a costume designer with an impeccable CV, miscues by dressing Streep in a ghastly baby-blue outfit for the finale that Blind Freddy would have seen coming from halfway. It’s good in parts, with some unarguable if obligatory feminist statements, but otherwise wildly overrated.