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REVIEW: ‘The Meddler’ is perfect for an afternoon with Mom

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The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne, is just about perfect fare for a movie date with Mom. Featuring spot-on writing and a terrific cast led by Susan Sarandon delivering arguably one of her most memorable “mom” roles, its a story that should feel very familiar to both millennial audiences and their parents.

That familiarity, during moments both dramatic and comedic, is at the core of what makes the film an enjoyable experience. You’ve either been through what you’re seeing on screen with your mom or your grown-up child, or you know someone who has, and thus you’ll find yourself laughing or cringing at scenes that mostly likely will hit very close to home.

What’s it about?

Sarandon plays Marnie Minervini, a recent widow who has moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles in order to be closer to her TV screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne, X-Men Apocalypse). Set for life thanks to money left to her by her late husband, Marnie spends her days getting to know her new city, her new iPhone, and at least trying to connect with Lori via calls and texts on an almost hourly basis.

Meanwhile, due to her relationship with an actor (Jason Ritter, TV’s “Parenthood“) recently ending and her writing hitting a wall, Lori isn’t in a good place to handle Marnie’s suddenly abundant presence and non-stop advice in her life. When work takes Lori back east for a few months, it provides the perfect (at least in her mind) opportunity to set boundaries Marnie can’t easily overstep, as well as a welcome escape.

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In Lori’s absence, Marnie finds other people’s lives to involve herself in. Whether it’s funding and helping to plan a wedding for one of Lori’s friends (Cecily Strong), or driving Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), the helpful Apple store employee who taught her how to use her phone, to his night classes, or visiting Lori’s therapist (Amy Landecker) to talk about (what else?) Lori, Marnie keeps herself busy with people who seem to need her help and her company.

But when it comes to dealing with her own intimate life, like talking to her late husband’s family or even responding to the interests of potential suitors, Marnie can’t run in the opposite direction fast enough. She seems to have the means or the prescription to make everyone’s life a little better, except for her own.

The Meddler one-sheet

Sarandon simply nails it

At the heart of The Meddler is, of course, Susan Sarandon’s performance. Another performer might have given audiences a Marnie that came off as an overbearing know-it-all, or as condescending and intrusive. But Sarandon brings an indelible sweetness and vulnerability to the role — it’s tough to not like Marnie, despite all the unsolicited advice and inability to recognize boundaries or social cues to back off. Sarandon projects that well-meaning demeanor, that generosity of spirit, without it ever feeling saccharine or forced. When Marnie shows up at someone’s door unannounced with a smile and bag of bagels, you just have to sigh and smile.

The supporting cast in The Meddler delivers strong work, as well. Byrne continues to show why she’s one of the most versatile actors in the business today, bringing just the right blend of millennial trainwreck frazzle and frustration to her turn as Lori. J.K. Simmons, meanwhile, channels a very likable bit of Sam Elliott into his role as Zipper, one of Marnie’s would-be suitors. Also, watch for Harry Hamlin and Laura San Giacomo in fun, “blink-and-you’ll-miss-them” cameos.

Credit to the director

But in crediting their work, it’s impossible not to give credit to writer/director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). Scafaria’s directorial touch here is gentle, but she makes the most of the talent she has in front of the camera and their chemistry with one another, resulting in scenes that feel fresh and vibrant, even if the premise of the story or its direction may feel a little familiar.

Most important, she keeps the film feeling personal and intimate while at the same time relatable. There’s a universality to what Scafaria delivers to audiences in The Meddler, and that’s tough to do with such personal material.

Worth seeing?

While it’ll be just as enjoyable on your couch at home, The Meddler really should be seen in theaters, if for no other reason than it’s a chance to take Mom to a movie she’s sure to enjoy.  As long as you’re okay with answering questions like, “Oh, I’m not like that, am I?” from Mom after the movie, it’s good fun.

The Meddler

Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Cecily Strong, Jerrod Carmichael, Jason Ritter, Billy Magnussen, Lucy Punch, Sarah Baker, Amy Landecker, Casey Wilson, Harry Hamlin, Laura San Giacomo, and Michael McKean. Directed by Lorene Scafaria.
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief drug content.

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Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.