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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

Mu­sic has been served well by cin­ema this year. Not film sound­tracks, though. They’re still all writ­ten by a ro­tat­ing ros­ter of five men: Danny Elfman, Alexan­dre De­s­plat, James New­ton Howard, Howard Shore and Thomas New­man, with the oc­ca­sional Trent Reznor or Ryuichi Sakamoto pop­ping up to main­tain the per­cep­tion of di­ver­sity.

No, I mean films about mu­sic. DVD Let­ter­box has raved in re­cent weeks about the Brian Wil­son biopic Love and Mercy and Mia Hansen-Love’s look at the mid-1990s French house mu­sic scene, Eden. Both are dis­tinc­tive, fine re-creations of par­tic­u­lar cre­ative pro­cesses, and they are not alone.

The year be­gan well with the en­ter­tain­ing if not ex­haus­tive look at those new ro­man­tics, Span­dau Bal­let in Soul Boys of the Western World. Whiplash, an Os­car win­ner ear­lier in the year, is a cap­ti­vat­ing, tight drama about a New York mu­sic school. And Belle and Se­bas­tian front­man Stu­art Mur­doch’s mu­si­cal God Help the Girl is a dippy bit of fun.

Asif Ka­pa­dia’s doc­u­men­tary about Amy Wine­house’s tragic down­fall, Amy, is a knock­out that’s likely to earn an Acad­emy Award nom­i­na­tion. And the NWA-cer­ti­fied biopic of the rap­pers, Straight Outta Comp­ton, has many fans.

Then there is that symphony of ex­cess, Mad Max: Fury Road, which, strictly speak­ing only con­trib­utes a fire­work-spew­ing elec­tric gui­tar to the genre. But that is enough.

Not all of them work, most no­tably the Jimi Hen­drix biopic Jimi: All is by My Side.

But an­other that does work is this week’s charm­ing release, Ricki and the Flash (PG, Univer­sal Sony, 106min, $39.95).

Jonathan Demme’s film stars Meryl Streep as hag­gard and feisty gui­tar hero­ine Ricki Ren­dazzo, who could have been a con­tender but now ekes out a liv­ing play­ing in a bar band and work­ing at a su­per­mar­ket check­out.

“I am old, I am broke, I can’t cook a de­cent meal, I am get­ting fat,” she moans, set­ting up the film for its req­ui­site re­demp­tion. In this case, its Ricki re­al­is­ing she should make good with her es­tranged or frus­trated kids.

The ob­vi­ous dra­matic beats in Di­ablo Cody’s oc­ca­sion­ally witty script are really noth­ing against the film’s ma­jor as­set: the mu­sic. Rick Spring­field plays Ricki’s beau and band­mate, Greg.

Dur­ing the drama, Streep hogs the stage but un­der Demme’s di­rec­tion (re­mem­ber he has a fine ca­reer in filmed mu­sic, in­clud­ing the sem­i­nal Talk­ing Heads con­cert film Stop Making Sense) and next to real mu­si­cians, Streep’s on­stage per­for­mance per­sona is far more al­lur­ing. Ricki may be the diva in the band but Streep is not.

The band was filmed live in all its scenes and that brings a joy and au­then­tic­ity to the film that the caus­tic and pre­dictable screen­play strug­gles with else­where. The fi­nal wed­ding re­cep­tion scene, shot in a free­wheel­ing man­ner, is an ex­u­ber­ant and heart­warm­ing vi­sion of mu­sic’s al­lure. And it’s a rip­ping end point to a won­der­ful year of mu­sic in film.

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