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'Ricki and the Flash' hits some high notes for Streep fans and music lovers
Greg (Rick Springfield) and Ricki (Meryl Streep) perform with the Flash at the Salt Well in Ricki and the Flash. - photo by Josh Terry
Ricki and the Flash hits some great notes, but it feels more like an underrated B-side than a million-seller.

Meryl Streep plays the title role of Ricki, a burned-out, wannabe rock star who left her family to chase her rock 'n' roll dreams decades earlier. Her band (the Flash) holds down a residency at a Los Angeles bar, but even a day job at a local grocery store cant keep her from the verge of bankruptcy.

Ricki has a tough enough time handling her own life. In addition to her financial woes, her lead guitarist, Greg (Rick Springfield), has been campaigning hard for a real relationship. But when her daughter Julie attempts suicide, Ricki heads home to Indiana to face the wreckage shes left behind.

Over the years, that wreckage has been neatly woven into the kind of material success Ricki has never enjoyed. Her ex-husband, Pete (Kevin Kline), lives with his new wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald), in a home bigger than Rickis apartment building, and their kids have managed to mask all their dysfunction in the trappings of upper-class lifestyle.

Its difficult to see Ricki ever having been a part of all this, but it helps when we finally meet Julie (played by Streeps real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer). Julie looks like something the cat dragged in through a cheese grater after it took a ride in a tornado. Shes not very keen to get help from her estranged mother, but Ricki is able to do some good before a confrontation with Maureen sends her on her way.

Ricki shows some promise, but she has plenty of work to do to get her life in order, and her reluctant efforts to follow through drive the rest of the film.

There are bits and pieces that shine. Director Jonathan Demme is a passionate music fan, and musical interludes with Streep and Springfield punctuate the films more serious passages. The various confrontations between family members in private and in public lead to numerous one-liners and awkward moments, and theres a real heartfelt message about the endurance of family that smoothes out some of the films rough bits.

But as a whole, the great moments never quite meld. Though the result feels like a pretty accurate representation of Rickis messy life (and lifes messy realities), Ricki and the Flash cant quite get the band into a steady groove.

Much of the film's success depends on whether Streep can sell herself as an aging rock star. She fully commits to the role, nailing blue-collar mannerisms and behaviors that are more than authentic. But she also represents the downside of having such a familiar face in the role. You never quite forget that youre watching Meryl Streep at work.

As effective as Streep is, Springfields Greg is the character who truly tugs on the heartstrings. Unlike Ricki, Greg has learned from his checkered past, and his efforts to lead her along to a better place are the most endearing element of the film.

Even if its a B-side, Ricki and the Flash will be worth seeing for Meryl Streep fans, music fans and, especially, anyone whos ever spent time in a working-class band. Sometimes its the deep cuts you remember the best.

Ricki and the Flash is rated PG-13 for profanity, vulgarity and drug references, as well as some mild sexual content.