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Straight From Diablo Cody's Life: 'Ricki' And Difficult Families

Ricki (Meryl Streep), a cover band frontwoman, in <em>Ricki and the Flash</em>.
Bob Vergara
Corutesy of TriStar Pictures
Ricki (Meryl Streep), a cover band frontwoman, in Ricki and the Flash.

In her new film, Ricki and the Flash, Meryl Streep plays a musician who used to dream about making it big; now, she's content to play in a cover band, in a bar. Her boyfriend and bandmate is named Greg, and he's played by real-life rock star Rick Springfield.

The film was written by Diablo Cody, who says her inspiration for the character Ricki came from her own life.

"My husband's mom is actually the lead singer of a cover band on the Jersey Shore," Cody tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "And the thing that was striking to me when I met her was nobody had prepped me for that — so I was expecting to meet your typical mother-in-law, and then that night we go to see a show of hers, and she's standing on the bar singing."

That was the spark for the character at the center of the film, Ricki Rendazzo, played by Streep. Ricki lives in LA, estranged from her three kids, who live in Indiana. At its core, this film is about family. To pursue her dream, Ricki left her husband and children behind; a family crisis finally takes her home, where her daughter is struggling with her own divorce.

Meryl Streep and Diablo Cody sat down with Martin to talk about the film and how they relate to the characters.

Interview Highlights

Streep, on whether it was uncomfortable to play opposite her actual daughter

Streep: I've heard her fling barbs at me for 32 years. I don't know, maybe I'm a bad mother because when I'm in it, I'm in it. I mean, I didn't think. I was feeling what it would feel like to feel this bad about having left these kids.

On Ricki's statement that fathers are allowed to hurt people and be forgiven, but mothers can't

Cody: Obviously I agree with Ricki in that moment, and at the same time I see the comedy in Ricki comparing herself to Mick Jagger. ... It's a rather imbalanced comparison. And if she had received the success of Mick Jagger, and been able to provide for her kids on that level, they may have been more quick to forgive.

Streep: No, they wouldn't. They'd just have more stuff.

Cody: You're probably right, actually. ... I'm stunned, even just the experience of writing this movie and putting it out there, how resistant people are to the idea of a woman who has — you know, she's automatically viewed as this very edgy, daring, unsympathetic character because she didn't, you know, see the whole mothering journey through. And as I've said, you know, my comparison is if this movie had starred Jack Nicholson, I don't think the same dialogue would be surrounding it.

Streep: The wife would have moved to Los Angeles and helped him; she could do her financial career wherever and he could pursue his rock 'n' roll dreams. No one has ever said to me, "Why didn't he just go with her?"

On the character Greg's line: "It doesn't matter if your kids love you or not. It's not their job to love you. It's your job to love them."

Cody: That became kind of a mantra for me at a point in my life. It came to me when I was off shooting a different movie a few years ago, and my eldest son was 1 [year old] and he was so angry with me when I would come home — he wouldn't come to me for a hug. He was genuinely clearly resentful of the fact that I had been gone. And it was gut-wrenching for me because I was a new mom, and it was not what I had pictured my life as a working mother to be like.

And so I just had to think of a way to remind myself that it doesn't matter if he doesn't come to you. That's not what this is about. This is about you loving him and making him feel secure, and not vice versa. So that got me through a hard time, and then I wound up just popping it into a script later on. That's what you do when you come up with a good one, is you bank it.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff