Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 2015. Clinica Estetico, LStar Capital, TriStar Pictures. Screenplay by Diablo Cody. Cinematography by Declan Quinn. Produced by Diablo Cody, Gary Goetzman, Mason Novick, Marc Platt. Production Design by Stuart Wurtzel. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Wyatt Smith.
Years after she walked out on her husband and three kids to pursue a career as a rock star, Meryl Streep is playing dive bars in Tarzana and about to file bankruptcy, so muddled about her relationship with her guitarist boyfriend (Rick Springfield) that she can barely keep from humiliating him onstage to the sparse crowd that watches them. When her ex-husband (Kevin Kline, Streep’s Sophie’s Choice co-star) calls her and tells her that their daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) needs her help, she gets on a plane and heads to the bland Indianapolis that she left behind in such a hurry so many years before. What she finds when she shows up is a desperately unhappy girl whose husband has left her for a teenager and who has fallen into a depressed funk. In deciding to stay and treat the Midwest to the sight of a sixty year-old woman in braids and tight leather pants, Streep decides to help her daughter get out of her rut while facing the consequences of having left her children behind so many years earlier, plus facing off with the woman (a very lovely Audra McDonald) who them in her absence. The plot has room for both the fish-out-of-water fun of Streep’s character as well as the heartbreak of the family situation, its narrative lifted quite liberally from Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire but in execution far too ridiculous to rate with anything believable or touching. Between the cardboard stereotypes of seething suburbanites who apparently go to weddings to do nothing but gossip and stare, and the painfully condescending presentation of white trash caricatures (just because Springfield plays a guitar in a pub doesn’t mean he doesn’t know that weddings have open bars), the film is a few poignant moments swimming in immature contrivances. Not to mention narrative confusion: Streep’s character apparently left middle-class conventions behind but behaves as if she has never encountered them in her life, while having her live a life on the rails while spouting pro-Bush politics is a laughable attempt at making her “complicated”. Sometimes when characters say everything they’re thinking it comes across as bold (which is why everyone loved Juno), but here the showdowns between opposing factions that contain very little subtlety read more like screenwriter Diablo Cody has no skill for subtext. Coming from the writer of Young Adult and the director of Rachel Getting Married, this one feels like a combination of the two made by far less skilled artists.