So it turns out that Ricki and the Flash is almost the same movie as Danny Collins, except where Al Pacino got to be a ridiculously wealthy aging rock star who could throw tons of money at his estranged family in order to win them back — which works, of course, even though it shouldn’t — Meryl Streep gets to be a poor musician in a house band in a mostly empty suburban Los Angeles watering hole, playing cover tunes and going bankrupt, with no money to throw at her estranged family in order to win them back. Women just can’t win: we get a movie with a female protagonist, but she doesn’t get the fantasy life that guys in movies get: Streep’s Ricki has to deal with everyday down-to-earth crap like being forced to work as a cashier in “Total Foods” between gigs. And now her ex, Pete (Kevin Kline: My Old Lady), calls her home to Indianapolis because their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer [The Lifeguard], Streep’s own daughter and near dead ringer), is having a major nervous breakdown after her husband left her.
There’s some good stuff here, such as the prickly interactions between Ricki and her daughter, and between Ricki and her kids’ stepmother, Pete’s second wife, Maureen (Audra McDonald: It Runs in the Family), all of it rough around the edges with pain and resentment and yet also with (eventually) bittersweet understanding and grudging acceptance. But too much of the film is contrived — Ricki feels like she was created, as a character, by screenwriter Diablo Cody (Jennifer’s Body) with the help of 20-sided dice: she’s a rock musician who *roll of the dice* is politically conservative; thanks, Obama! — and too on-the-nose, as with Ricki’s rant to her crowd of bar fans about the double standard applied to mothers, who get castigated for doing what fathers get away with, like have their own life apart from their children. (That’s true, of course, but something other than a sledgehammer approach would be more effective at making us appreciate that.) Streep (The Giver) is fab, of course, as is the rest of the cast, including Rick Springfield as Ricki’s (almost manic-pixie-ish) bandmate boyfriend; he’s a nice rock ’n’ roll throwback touch. But this isn’t quite the “Streep as a rock star” movie she — or we — deserve.