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“The Meddler” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

meddler-2016

     Susan Sarandon pulls off her meatiest role in ages for “The Meddler,” a quirky and enjoyable romp about the person that we really can’t live with or without. Yes, I’m referring to mom, and in particular those of the doting variety (is there really any other kind?) She may not be hip, and yes she is a little bit embarrassing, but most people who come in contact with her learn to appreciate her, so why can’t we? Well, maybe we could if her sole purpose in life wasn’t to continually drive us up a wall! Just ask television scriptwriter Lori (Rose Byrne), fresh off of a recent breakup with action movie star Jacob (Jason Ritter), and finding it increasingly harder to get out of bed each day. Much to Lori’s chagrin, her mom Marnie (Sarandon in one of the year’s most refreshing performances) shows up unannounced (if you don’t count the missed calls and unread texts) on her doorstep with bagels. In reality, Marnie has relocated to Los Angeles after the death of her well-to-do husband because Lori is all that she has.

THE MEDDLER, from left: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, 2015. ph: Jaimie Trueblood / © Sony Pictures

     While a sweet gesture, Lori doesn’t see it that way. Besides the prodding and prying, Marnie has a nasty habit of bringing up things that Lori is medicating to forget (i.e. Jacob), which is why she actually leaves town for a location shoot, leaving Marnie all alone with loads of time and money. Channeling her inner hipster, she takes her daughter’s place at events involving HER friends around town, buys iPads for gifts like they’re going out of style and even motivates and eventually drives Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), the Apple Store salesman who sold her the iPads, to night school! Oh, and did I mention that she insists on paying for Lori’s best friend Jillian’s (Cecily Strong of ‘SNL’) wedding?! There may even be romance in Marnie’s future as she wanders onto a movie set and meets a kindly ex-cop providing detail named Zipper (J.K. Simmons). Which poses some very important questions: Is it too soon to let someone get close to her still-fragile heart? And how will a returning Lori react to Marnie actually having a life of her own?

THE MEDDLER, Susan Sarandon, 2015. ph: Jaimie Trueblood / © Sony Pictures Classics / courtesy

     It took a little while getting used to, but this dramedy from Writer-Director Lorene Scafaria (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) managed to successfully land that ever-important one-two punch of laughter and pathos. Anyone fortunate enough to have a mother that actually cares about their lives and makes a habit out of meddling, knows how pertinent this film actually is. Yes, we do get tired of their nagging, the incessant phone calls, and not to mention their instance upon offering up unwanted advice when it comes to our love lives, but, whenever we think we can live without their all-encompassing affection, we find out just how deluded we really are.

the-meddler

     Contrary to the film’s promotional materials, the character of Lori is more of a catalyst for Marnie’s awakening, rather than a traditional co-star because Rose Byrne didn’t have one-quarter of the screen time that I expected her to. With that being said, her performance was enjoyable and I frankly wanted more interaction between Lori and the so-called bane of her existence. Surprisingly effective was the casting of Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) as the kindhearted ex-cop turned farmer (bum-ba-dum-bum-bum-bum-bum!) and love interest for Marnie. While the role of “Zipper” would normally be played by someone like Sam Elliot (who was probably busy playing “that” role in the similar “Grandma” by the way), Simmons suited up perfectly opposite Sarandon and is increasingly giving me more reasons to join this terrific actor’s fan club (do you suppose there is such a thing?)    

THE MEDDLER, from left: Susan Sarandon, J.K. Simmons, 2015. ph: Jaimie Trueblood / © Sony Pictures

     Through the magic of cinema, we learn that every human being projected onscreen is fragile in some way, shape or form. Whereas the less-than-accommodating title character of Paul Weitz’s aforementioned “Grandma” conveyed an exterior toughness to everyone (which acted as a coping mechanism due to repeated acts of love and loss), Marnie’s widowed privilege allows her to protect her psyche by offering her time to needful strangers, and buying lavish gifts for people she barely knows, even though it’s apparent to everyone that the person she really needs is the person who needs her. And that goes for her daughter first and foremost, as well as her suitor and newfound friends such as Freddy and Jillian. As the great Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Likewise, we shouldn’t waste an opportunity to tell the woman who gave us life how much we really appreciate her presence, even though we know she’ll always be a meddler.

*** (three out of four stars)

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