Directed by Lorene Scafaria. Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Michael McKean, Casey Wilson.
THE PLOT: Marnie (Susan Sarandon) has just moved to LA to be closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). Although Marnie insists all the time that “basically I feel great!”, it soon becomes clear, from her constant voicemails to her daughter and the fact that she crashes parties and spends her money on anyone but herself, that the recent death of her husband has left her at a loss. When her daughter goes to New York for work, Marnie finds herself alone in LA for the first time, and struggling to make real connections.

‘The Meddler’ is the first film from writer/director Lorene Scafaria in almost four years – her last being Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – and not only does the film feel rather like a companion piece to the excellent Lily Tomlin film Grandma, but also as though it is a subject close to Scafaria’s heart.
Susan Sarandon leads the cast here, and the whole film entirely depends on her performance as Marnie. Chewing a New Jersey accent to charming effect, and playing a character whose loss and grief are not so far from the surface, Sarandon makes Marnie a character many of us will recognise; the over bearing mother who is just trying to help but somehow ends up making everything worse. Sarandon makes the character relatable and sweet, while allowing her despair and loneliness to be glimpsed through the cracks in her emotional armour. Rose Byrne has a smaller role as Marnie’s exasperated daughter Lori, and it is a role that again, is recognisable, as Lori tries her best to have her own life while trying not to offend her mother. J.K. Simmons plays a smaller role as Zipper, a gentle and kind man intrigued by Marnie but struggling with his own issues when it comes to his kids. Michael McKean, Cecily Strong, Casey Wilson and Jerrod Carmichael turn up in supporting roles.

Lorene Scafaria’s screenplay is really the examination of what people do to come to terms with the death of their spouses or life partners. Marnie’s loneliness is palpable, and much of her dialogue feels real and instantly recognisable for any adult whose relationship with their parents has changed. There are times when it feels as though the film is drifting from scene to scene with no real throughline or over arcing plot, as well as a tendency to rely on songs to hammer home emotion or, in some cases, convey it entirely. This is not totally surprising since Seeking a Friend for the End of the World similarly relied on music, but these moments are shaken off by the second half of the film, and when Marnie finally begins to let her walls down and we get a glimpse of true emotion, the film is strong and affecting. The moments of humour also work well, and there is a warmth and sweetness that permeates the entire film.
As director, Lorene Scafaria coaxes strong performances from her cast, and Susan Sarandon easily carries the film with her heartfelt performance. There are times when the pacing of the film struggles and feels as though it needs a kick in the right direction to get it moving again; while it is fun to spend time with these characters, there does need to be a strong feel that the story is moving. That said, the relationships between the characters feel real and the deeper emotions of Marnie that are slowly revealed keep the audience engaged throughout the film.
In all, ‘The Meddler’ is carried by Susan Sarandon’s wonderful lead performance as a woman struggling to find a new way to live her life after her husband died. Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons do well in their roles and, although there are times when the pacing suffers and the film as a whole relies rather heavily on songs to convey emotion, there is a sweet and warm heart to ‘The Meddler’, and a character that many of us will recognise.

RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s follow-up to Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World is The Meddler. It’s an equally quirky character piece, without a doomsday scenario of course.

    Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a sixtysomething New Yorker who has moved from the bright lights of New York to the palm tree oasis of Los Angeles. The recent passing of her husband makes her want to be closer to her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). Lori is a TV writer working on a new pilot. But she doesn’t know how to chill, as she’s stressed out about her ex-boyfriend Jacob (Jason Ritter) and is in therapy. Maybe this is her way of dealing with the death of her father. The meddling presence of her live-in mother isn’t helping matters, as Marnie scrutinises every aspect of her daughter’s lifestyle. When Lori goes to New York to shoot a pilot, Marnie is left alone to discover the L.A. lifestyle, making new friends and having flirtations with kindly former cop Zipper (J.K. Simmons)…

    The Meddler is an ideal vehicle for the talents of Sarandon. Like Jeff Bridges, she’s a solid veteran actor who we often take for granted and never disappoints. Age need not be a barrier in Hollywood, as Sarandon has successfully proved. She still gets lead roles, like in The Calling and now this film. The Meddler sees her playing an independent woman with a newfound thirst for life. There’s no sign of Marnie heading to the bingo halls here – she’s more interested in experiencing all that L.A. has to offer her. The contrast between the calm, curious Marnie and the stressed, distracted Lori is best captured in the pregnancy test scene. It’s a highlight of the film and is hilarious. A comparison to last year’s wonderful Grandma would no doubt be welcomed by Scafaria.

    Scafaria’s sharply-written script is mostly spot-on, but with a few bum notes here and there. Scenes between Marnie and a near-emotionless therapist (Amy Landecker) just smack of trying to be too smart for its own good. Marnie doesn’t need therapy – she’s got her headspace sorted out and doesn’t need the furniture to be re-arranged. Also, Lori disappears for long stretches of the story. While it’s primarily Marnie’s story, more scenes with Lori would be welcome. The verbal tennis match between Sarandon and Byrne is a joy to watch. The Meddler is a minor gem that should reward viewers going along for the ride. If anything, it’s worth watching for the superb Sarandon alone. ***