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RICKI AND THE FLASH is by turns free-spirited and traditional, precious and acerbic, melancholy and crowd-pleasing. In other words, it’s what you would expect from a Jonathan Demme and Diablo Cody collaboration. What ties it all together, and ultimately makes it work, is the film’s commitment to protecting and reflecting the humanity of its characters.

Meryl Streep plays a rocker who left her husband, daughter and two sons many years ago to pursue her dream of a life as a professional musician. Tempers flair when she’s finally reunited with her family at the behest of her ex-husband (Kevin Kline), and it is impendent upon her to mend bridges just strong enough so she can be allowed to cross back into their lives.

The film sets up a string of sitcom-ready possibilities, but Diablo Cody’s (JUNO) script outsmarts them at each turn. Take, for instance, the role of Kline’s new wife played by Audra McDonald, a character that could have been portrayed as a spiteful and rightfully entitled stepmother (after all, she spent her life raising the kids as Ricki went off to live her dream without them). In her communications with Ricki, McDonald infuses the role with a not-giving-an-inch strength, but unravels reserves of compassion and accommodation as well.

What’s most remarkable about the movie is the complete empathy you’re allowed to feel for each character; you sense the family’s awkwardness around the rebellious stranger Ricki, but you experience Ricki’s awkwardness at sensing their awkwardness, too. Demme’s approach allows for layers of hair-turn emotional perceptions.

The performances are appealing across the board, including the one provided by Mamie Gummer, the real-life daughter of Streep who portrays the tormented daughter here. Each of the performances – particularly the one crafted by Gummer – could have fallen into the trap of non-stop shrillness in their expressions of anger towards Ricki, but they wisely provide more interesting variations of tone. As for Streep, she has a great handle on her character from moment to moment, though her musical numbers in the film may feel a bit studied (with the exception of an intimate solo musical moment in a living room which plays as one of the revealing moments in the film). With a lifetime of remarkably diverse roles under her belt, it’s difficult to pin Meryl Streep as a “type”. Ricki and The Flash further mystifies this effort. GRADE: B