Have you heard Meryl Streep's laugh? It comes from the depths of her lungs and is this heartfelt hiss – it's actually very hard to describe but the reason I mention it is that when you hear it, you may think of it is the Meryl Streep trademark.
Nothing else about her is the same and this is what is truly remarkable about this actor who has brought us such contrasting and wildly differing roles. I watched her in Out of Africa as I was moving to Africa; I watched her in Kramer Vs Kramer as I was embarking on my career as a lawyer. Then there was The Devil wears Prada and the delightful Mama Mia, which gave us her lighter side. Her stellar and indeed Oscar winning performance in the Iron Lady, and then the dark and disturbing August, Osage County, delving deep into very dysfunctional families. And that is cherry picking some of my own favourites. Her films are many more and she holds the record for the number of Oscar nominations.
Is there anything she can't turn her head and heart to? In her latest film which I had the pleasure of watching, she is an ageing rock star. For each film she takes on, she puts her life and soul into assuming and presenting the character she is portraying, from the Danish accent of Karen Von Blixen in Out of Africa to the enunciated and very proper English of The Iron Lady. In this one she has braided her hair, wears jeans and learns to play the guitar and sing rock.
In the opening scene we see her playing with her band, The Flash, in a small town bar in Tarzana, California. Her music is lively and passionate and she clearly has a fan base in the bar where she appears. The patrons get up and dance to her music with a carefree abandon and this aspect of the film appeals. Feet start tapping, fingers too, as we recognise the songs and are practically joining in the singing. It is worth noting that she took guitar lessons for this film and recorded all the music on the set as this was a condition of the director Jonathan Demme. She sang alongside Rick Springfield, who is the other lead guitarist in the band and her boyfriend "Greg" in the story.
She receives a call from her ex husband, Pete, played superbly by Kevin Kline as the buttoned up, slightly stressed but successful businessman he is, to tell her that her daughter Julie is in a bad way because her marriage has broken up. He asks Linda aka Ricki to come and visit to see if she can help. There are some hilarious moments with Ricki trying to get through airport security. We see her arriving at the house, a penniless but dedicated musician almost genuinely surprised at all that she left behind to pursue her love of music.
The story largely centres on her relationship with her ex husband and her two sons and daughter.
What makes this different is that we see Meryl in a role where she has chosen her rock music over being a good and attentive mother. In fact she walked out of the marriage and her children. Pete remarries the dependable Maureen who took over diligently where she left off and raised her children. There is huge guilt and anger both on her part for being made to feel this way but also on the children's part who felt abandoned and neglected. It's a big message film, one which allows us all to celebrate the importance of following our own dreams and of allowing ourselves the freedom to do so without being pigeon holed into stereotypical type casts. Streep makes the obvious point. She is perceived to have failed as she did not live by the dictum "I am a mother and my kids are my priority". And she is angry in the film and rightly so, as men are not made to feel guilty if they fail in keeping the dictum "I am a dad and my kids are my priority." My only argument with the way this unfolded is that I wonder if the small bar was the venue for this to be aired on stage. There are no quick fixes and she does her best to be there for her children and she does so by celebrating what has made her who she is; a talented musician with a lot to offer. So Streep has taken on a difficult theme and at times a clunky script here but delivers the role and the character with her usual commitment. It is worth noting that her actual daughter, Mamee Gummer, plays Julie. Julie has the haggard look that captures her character very successfully. Gummer has become an established actor in her own right and is well known for the TV series, The Good Wife.
So while in real life Meryl and Mamee are as close as ever, they have both managed to create the emotional turmoil, guilt and anger between them in the film which is no mean feat. Another film, another Meryl – aren't we lucky to have them all before us.