The Meddler (2015) Film Review, a movie written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Jerrod Carmichael, Cecily Strong, Lucy Punch, Michael McKean, Jason Ritter, Sarah Baker, Casey Wilson, Amy Landecker, Billy Magnussen, and Megalyn Echikunwoke.
Hollywood films frequently attempt to tackle themes of grief and loss, with varying degrees of success. More often than not, this dark cloud of a topic is homogenized and smoothed over in favor of something that works more exclusively as entertainment than challenging art. Lorene Scafaria’s The Meddler is a deft exploration of the subject, even more remarkable in that it’s a comedy. Susan Sarandon stars as a sixty-something New York woman who relocates to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne) following the death of her husband, Joey.
Marnie is, yes, something of a meddler, incessantly stepping over boundaries with Lori, who has just gone through a bad breakup. Joey set Marnie up for life financially, and money, along with her innate kindness and goodwill, is her most prominent coping mechanism. She takes a young man from the Genius Bar at the Apple Store under her wing, encouraging him to pursue a fulfilling career. She buys friends lavish, yet practical gifts. When a young mother she knows tells her that she never had a proper wedding, Marnie jumps at the opportunity to plan a decadent ceremony aboard a yacht. I especially appreciated a scene in which Marnie sits on a therapist couch swimming in Crate and Barrell bags, and debates her therapist’s suggestion that she might be compensating. This follows directly after a scene in which Marnie takes the bridal party to a gown fitting. She foots the bill for the expensive dress and they all rejoice. This is typically a kind of scene that makes my skin crawl, a celebration of retail therapy that plagued the later seasons and films of the Sex & the City opus. But Scafaria has her cake and eats it too; this fantasy moment is inserted into Marnie’s believable and sympathetic world. The effect is disarmingly funny and strangely poignant.
The late husband is only seen in photographs, but his absence is felt in every frame. Scafaria’s screenplay is based on her mother, and the real-life loss of her father. The authenticity is invaluable, providing moments like Marnie’s bewilderment with a form that she has to mark as either married or single, or a particularly moving scene when Marnie states that it’s been one year since the passing of Joey, only to re-assess with some embarrassment that it’s in fact been two years. This is in some ways a slight film, but it’s also perpetually buoyant with good humor, and thanks undoubtedly to its basis in reality, it’s often truly affecting.
In the wake of headlines Sarandon has recently made due to her controversial remarks about the 2016 presidential election, or even more pettily, due to Piers Morgan’s chiding of her cleavage on the red carpet, The Meddler serves as a luminous reminder of Sarandon’s singular talent. Scafaria’s screenplay is strong, but how many actresses could have done this? Played by anyone else, doting mother Marnie, with her rounded New York accent, would come off as a sitcom-y cliche at best.
The Meddler was a poor choice of a title for this thing; it gives off the vibe that this film should be far more cloying and humdrum than it really is. This goofy title underserves Scafaria’s work, and completely defrauds Sarandon’s performance, which is just miraculous. The story runs into some feel-good familiarity and a contrivance or two in the third act, but Sarandon remains committed and sensational, and Marnie never feels less than real. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else working these acting wonders, at times it looks like sorcery. Sarandon recently starred in Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone’s profoundly dumb Tammy, in which she was burdened with a disastrous screenplay, with virtually zero genuine character, and infinite obvious jokes. Here, she is working with a screenplay that has some subtlety to it and gives her plenty of room to breathe, and deep within the character of Marnie, she finds troves of empathetic humor, not to mention substantial heartbreak. This is the first Oscar-worthy performance I’ve seen in 2016.
Speaking of Oscars, recent winner J.K. Simmons is just the right fit in the role of Marnie’s new love interest, Zipper, a semiretired police officer who lives on a farm where he plays Dolly Parton songs on his guitar to his pet chickens. On paper, this character sounds like a phony nightmare of quirkiness, and in a lesser film with lesser actors, this romance would feel forced and artificial, but this is a compelling romance filled with truth, spontaneity, and patience. In his 2015 Oscars speech, after winning Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Whiplash, Simmons memorably instructed the audience to pick up the phone and call their parents to say “I love you.” The Meddler is a pleasant surprise, deeply felt and marvelously acted, that will inspire many a viewer to pick up the phone to call Mom.
Leave your thoughts on The Meddler and this review below in the comments section. For more film reviews, visit our Movie Review Page, our Movie Review Facebook Page, our Movie Review Google+ Page, and consider subscribing to us by Email, “following” us on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ or “liking” us on Facebook for quick updates.