The Meddler is less a tale of meddling and more a tale of motherhood. It spotlights Susan Sarandon in a role that speaks to audiences. Outside of motherhood, there are themes of loneliness, moving on, and essentially trying to find purpose in a life that has lost its compass. “Anyway,” Sarandon’s Marnie says at the beginning of the film, proceeding to regale us with what she’s been up to, ending in a reassurance that she’s doing just fine. Writer and director Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) keeps the theatrics to a minimum and by keeping it down-to-earth, The Meddler is endearing, heartfelt, and might just make you want to call your mother afterward.
Picking up what’s left of her life after the death of her husband, Marnie (Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), who’s stressed over a new pilot she’s writing and can’t seem to move on from her last boyfriend (Jason Ritter). The introduction makes it look like the plot will revolve heavily on Marnie (who listens to a lot of Beyoncé’s “I Was Here”) and Lori’s relationship and equally give time to the both of them. However, while there’s a lot of tension in their relationship, once Marnie heads off to New York for a few weeks, the narrative shifts entirely to Marnie.
Left with money to spend and lots of time on her hands, Marnie spends it hovering over her daughter, calling her several times a day. She attends baby showers, volunteers thousands of dollars in order for Lori’s friend Jillian (Cecily Strong) to have a proper wedding, and drives the local iPhone sales guy, Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), to night school. This is all to avoid facing the fact that she’s a widow and doesn’t quite know what to do with herself anymore. Believing that helping others will prove useful, she comes to the realization that she also has to move on and think about her own happiness after meeting a security employee named Zipper (J.K. Simmons) on a movie set.
The Meddler has the distinct ability to bring out the best in its lead character by allowing Sarandon to take front and center, letting her steer the plot instead of the other way around. It does help that the plot isn’t very heavy, either. Disregarding the fact that Sarandon doesn’t have to worry about her financial stability, she’s a relatable character in every other aspect. At any age, people can feel adrift and wander throughout life without being able to move on. And this is essentially the definition of the film’s beauty. It’s in its simplicity and human relatability which endears it to us. Marnie tries to find purpose by doing several things, all of which are helpful and good deeds, but none that truly mean anything to her on a deeper level. The bridges she must cross to get back to her daughter and to open up her heart again are her true journeys.
Not everything works. There’s Marnie’s almost-suitor, played by Michael McKean, but he shows up twice and is forgettable in the bigger scheme of things. There is also a drug episode, where Marnie swallows an entire bag of pot, but other than wandering through Los Angeles in a haze and a lot of pretty shots of fountains, there isn’t much that this adds to the film. There could have also been more of Byrne’s character. Her interactions with Sarandon are fantastic and it would have been enjoyable to have more of her journey documented as well. Regardless, The Meddler is one of those films that has a lot of heart, some humor, and a character’s journey that drives the story. And if you feel the need to call your mother afterward, then the film has accomplished its goal.
Photos by Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
The Meddler opens nationwide April 29, 2016.