The Meddler (2016)
dir. Lorene Scafaria
written by: Lorene Scafaria
starring: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Cecily Strong
3 out of 4 stars
Less than stellar weeks deserve a finale that is mindlessly enjoyable. Relying on an Oscar-winning actress is my go-to relief, and though this role was quite different from Dead Man Walking, Susan Sarandon’s 1995 Best Actress award winner, it was welcomed for the amply lighter subject matter. The Meddler is an aria for one of the greatest over-involved mothers of all time. A year after her husband’s death and relocated to Los Angeles to be closer to her showrunner daughter, Marnie (Sarandon) has a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of opinions.
What is an older woman to do when her deceased husband has left her financially sound, but her daughter is trying to set personal boundaries? Clearly, she must befriend the Apple Genius teaching her to use her growing collection of Apple products, fail at flirting with the men in her life, and invade her daughter’s friend’s lives, making herself heavily involved and part of the family. When her daughter Lori, played by the always strong Rose Byrne (though this melancholy character does not match her as well as most), suggests her mother needs a hobby, Marnie kicks herself into gear to embrace her new life. Seeking to be everyone’s absent mother, Susan Sarandon masters the helicopter mom with little to do.
The movie has some issues. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) is quite talented at finding quirky characters within diverse worlds and dragging surprisingly enjoyable plots from these characters. Plot holes and an abundance of characters and interaction can plague Scafaria’s screenplays, but her delivery is outstanding. Much less convoluted than her joyfully messy Seeking a Friend, The Meddler packs a punch with humor even as the progression lacks some meaning. Full of laughs that Sarandon lands with expected skill, we have found another popular entry in the older adult female driven comedy, so soon after the charming success of Hello, My Name is Doris.
When Byrne suggests to Sarandon, “Maybe you should get a hobby,” the answer of “Maybe you can be my hobby” explains all you need to know about the woman behind the character. Marnie does not lack confidence, and neither does Sarandon. She exhibits no resistance at being overwhelmingly positive and involved. Sarandon never forces a line; she allows it to escape without any forethought, and once it’s out, she goes with it. Both caring and a bit crazy, her escape into the world of others is full force, but her avoidance of personal dalliances demonstrates her inability to let go. J.K. Simmons provides a well matched love interest, and her uncomfortable interactions with the uncle of the bride for the wedding she finances adds some of the best laughs in the movie. Mostly this is a movie ready to showcase Sarandon.
Could we have cut out some hyper-involved activity and dropped some shakier asides from the script? Yes, we certainly could, but what we were delivered was a well acted and rather hilarious escape into a woman solving her problems her own way. Being a little lost does not have to be a cry for help or a tear jerker. Life changes are dealt with differently, and for Marnie, sometimes that means taking all of the control, because she can. Mess can be fun, and compared to the other new options in Seattle this week, I think we have found the most fun available.