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Review: The Meddler (2016)

The Meddler (2016)

Directed by: Lorene Safaria

Premise: Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is an east coast widow who relocates to Los Angeles to be near her daughter (Rose Byrne) who is a television writer. In an attempt to fill her days, Marine gets involved in the lives of others and meets a retired police officer (J.K. Simmons).

What Works: The Meddler has been marketed to look like a movie about the relationship between a mother and her adult daughter. While that’s part of what this film is about, The Meddler is primarily the story of an older woman in search of a purpose in the late period of her life. Marnie is the kind of character who would normally be assigned to a supporting role as the sassy grandmother of a television sitcom. In The Meddler she is foregrounded and the movie takes a different approach to a familiar kind of character. Marnie is the kind of parent who has never stopped hovering over her daughter’s life and she inserts herself into the affairs of others. The Meddler is about motherhood and how the maternal role is redefined in old age. Marnie’s busyness comes from a place of love and affection but it is also about distracting herself from the grief over the loss of her husband. This emerges over the course of the film. Following her husband’s death, Marnie has moved across the country to be near her daughter and the change in setting has allowed Marnie to avoid confronting her loss. It’s also revealed that Marnie’s husband left her a great deal of money which she selflessly spends on other people’s needs but it is also clear that Marnie uses that fortune to buy her way into other people’s lives. Marnie’s interior struggles emerge over the course of the film and it gives the movie some unexpected dramatic substance. Susan Sarandon is terrific in the lead role. She plays the part in ways that are both funny and dramatic and she makes what could easily be an irritating character into a likable and complex human being. Sarandon’s rapport with Rose Byrne is also effective. Byrne plays the daughter who simultaneously wants to get away from her mother and is psychologically dependent on her. This is a very real struggle between children and their parents and the film portrays it well. The Meddler also has an impressive supporting cast including Cecily Strong as a bride whose wedding Marnie finances, Jerrod Carmichael as a computer store employee, and J.K. Simmons as a retired police officer. The relationships that Marnie develops with these people are fun especially her romance with Simmons’ character which is very sweet.

What Doesn’t: The Meddler is a film that’s easy to view cynically. On the most superficial reading, the lead character’s problem is that she doesn’t know how to spend her dead husband’s fortune. That conflict doesn’t invite much sympathy on the part of the audience but The Meddler has more going on underneath that makes the money an instrument of this woman’s existential crisis. But the movie is decidedly light and tends to avoid the moments that would give The Meddler dramatic gravitas. That’s most obvious in Marnie’s trip to the east coast in which she reunites with her late husband’s family. There are some strong moments in this section but the film doesn’t capitalize on them. The storytelling of The Meddler is uneven. Much like its main character, the filmmakers are in search of what this movie is about and the picture bounces between several different plotlines. The first half of the movie plays like a television sitcom with its episodic pacing and disconnected escapades. That may even be an intentional stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers since it is later revealed that Rose Byrne’s character has turned her family into a sitcom. But The Meddler takes a while to coalesce around a specific plotline and even after it does that the movie still goes on tangents with its other characters.

DVD extras: Commentary track, gag reel, featurettes, and trailers.

Bottom Line: The Meddler is dramatic popcorn that isn’t especially demanding but satisfies nevertheless. The film has a bit more going on underneath its surface that it initially suggests and the film benefits from an impressive performance by Susan Sarandon.

Episode: #625 (December 11, 2016)