When you combine Oscar winner actress Meryl Streep, and Oscar winning director Diablo Cody, what you probably don't expect is Streep portraying a down at heel rock and roll singer, moving from gig to gig at greasy spoon venues.
What you can expect is that Streep, by breathing life into her part, and singing her heart out, transforms what could have been a "ho-hum" formulaic movie into something much better. Is it memorable? Probably not. Is it entertaining and engaging? You bet your life.
Add to that a mesmerising performance by Meryl Streep's real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, playing Streep's movie daughter. In the film, she is traumatised by two rejections – by Streep's desertion of her family to pursue her music, and by her impending divorce . Gummer's intense depiction of a woman struggling with suicidal thoughts, intense angers, and insecurities may well be one of the finest pieces of character acting it has been my privilege to see in some years. Apart from Meryl Streep herself, of course.
Is there nothing this woman cannot do on screen? "A Prarie Home Companion" showed us that she can hold a tune. But in "Ricky and the Flash", she fronts a rock and roll band. And she does it superbly.
The stage presence is a given. When Streep is performing, she draws the eye like a magnet. But the voice? At times raunchy, at times rasping, and sometimes segueing into soul, Streep nails her numbers. Dobie Gray's "Drift Away" sends shivers down your spine. Bruce Springsteen, U2, and Lady Gaga also get covered. And, when she breaks the ice at a wedding dinner with a powerfully performed "My Love Will Not Let You Down", it is entirely believable that almost everyone has to get up and dance.
Much of this film is forgettable, and a great deal of it is predictable. But most of it is enjoyable.
Expect to leave it having seen two great actresses who happen to be mother and daughter. Expect to see them create memorable characters and real dramatic tension out of what could have been unmemorable and formulaic parts.