“The Meddler” (2016) – According to the dictionary, a meddler involves oneself in a matter without right or invitation. Many times, parents appropriately intervene in their children’s lives when their offspring mess up or about to make a life mistake. What about when children are grown? Once a parent, always a parent, right? Granted, I’m not a parent, but I have earned plenty of experience in shunning my mother’s “advice” after my 18th birthday.
Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a mother to Lori (Rose Byrne), a beautiful, 30-something TV show writer residing in Los Angeles, and mom decided to move from New York City to the City of Angels after her husband passed away. Marnie loves living in Southern California and enjoys the gorgeous, year-round weather, shopping at an outdoor mall called The Grove and spending time with Lori. Actually, spending time is an understatement and obsessing over her daughter seems more accurate. Marnie repeatedly calls Lori, routinely stops over at her house unannounced, warns her about the latest serial killers on the news, and badgers her about getting back with her ex-boyfriend. Lori loves her mom, but with the constant smothering, she needs a break.
Marnie somewhat gets the message and begins a journey of self-discovery in writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (2012)) film. With Marnie’s husband passing away almost two years ago, Sarandon’s character feels highly relatable for millions and millions of widows and widowers who try to find their place in the world minus their lifetime partner. With her wide-open, New York persona, Marnie tries to make new friends and does so rather easily, as she befriends a Genius Bar worker from a nearby Apple store (Jerrod Carmichael), Lori’s close pal (Cecily Strong) and an elderly woman at the hospital (Jo Jordan). They do not seem to mind Marnie’s enabling behavior and unfiltered advice (and probably because they are not related to her). You see, Marnie’s heart is always in the right place, and admittedly, her recommendations usually prove right, even if her methods are over-the-top.
Scafaria plays out the scenarios in cartoonish – but in believable and comedic – ways, as we cringe when Marnie suggests to throw a wedding for her daughter’s aforementioned friend, Jillian (Strong), without even running it by Lori first. I remember mumbling “Oh no” a number of times throughout the 1 hour 40 minute runtime as Marnie steps where she does not belong, but she is attempting to fill a void and find value in herself, and there is a certain beauty in that.
Speaking of beauty, “The Meddler” is a terrific vehicle for Sarandon, and the camera captures Marnie’s gentle spirit for long stretches. For instance, she breaks out of her comfort zone and dates a retired cop nicknamed Zipper (J.K. Simmons) and the next morning, turns to the kitchen and prepares an egg and a slice of toast. We see the crack of the egg and the popping of toast, and then Marnie just spends a quiet minute eating her morning creation while smiling and soaking up the moment. This is just one of many instances when Scafaria gives Sarandon the time and space to simply act without saying a word.
From strictly a narrative perspective, the movie is not particularly remarkable or ground-breaking, and a similar tale from 2015 starring Blythe Danner called “I’ll See You in My Dreams” worked a bit better. At times, “The Meddler” meanders through plot points like a Saturday afternoon, Lifetime movie, but its strength is with the characters, both main and supporting. Sarandon shines in the lead, and Byrne, Simmons and Carmichael deliver rich, genuine performances, as their characters maintain or build relationships with Marnie. Whether or not Marnie learns from the past, she is a person worth knowing, and as an audience member, I was grateful for the invitation.