Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Run time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Stars: Rose Byrne, Susan Sarandon, J.K. Simmons
Director: Lorene Scafaria
En español | Funny and heartfelt, The Meddler boasts a standout performance by Susan Sarandon as Marnie, a woman who tries to sublimate the love she had for her late husband by smothering her grown daughter with soul-crushing affection.
When that doesn't satisfy her maternal yearnings, Marnie recklessly lavishes her generosity on an ever-growing circle of acquaintances, then strangers. Not until she meets the guy who might just be the next man of her dreams (J.K. Simmons) does it dawn on Marnie that she may be worthy of receiving love herself.
At the core of The Meddler is the complex relationship between Marnie and her daughter, Lori (adorable Rose Byrne), a TV writer-director trying to make her mark in Hollywood. As the film opens, Marnie has recently moved from New Jersey to L.A., ostensibly for a change of scenery following her husband's death but transparently to be near her only child.
Marnie and Lori have clearly not defined their boundaries — not that Marnie would observe them if they existed. She pops by her daughter's house daily, calls and texts her hourly, and has even started seeing the same counselor: "Call me and let me know you got in safe," Marnie hectors Lori in one voice mail. "Oh! And remind me to tell you what your therapist said!" By the time we meet Lori, her exasperation has justifiably reached the boiling point.
Were this a TV sitcom, the situation would unleash an endless string of facile mother-daughter insult jokes. (To make sure we get the point, Lori is directing a sitcom in which a put-upon daughter must fend off her overbearing parents.) But director Lorene Scafaria, who based the film on her own family experience, has loftier aims: She's trying to get to the heart of the mother-daughter dynamic. Marnie and Lori love each other too deeply, albeit a bit too desperately, to knowingly hurt each other's feelings. Yet their physical proximity — to say nothing of their emotional intimacy — can't help but spark the occasional angry encounter. Such scenes between Sarandon and Byrne often end in slammed doors and furrowed brows, but never in alienation.
Into this mix rides a charming ex-cop, played with Sam Elliott-style smoothness by Simmons (Whiplash). Always a convivial film presence, Simmons adds a welcome dash of testosterone to the proceedings, helping Marnie see herself as something more — something healthier — than mere grieving wife and mother. The two spend a long night together on his Harley, cruising the beaches and canyons of Malibu. As Marnie rediscovers the joy of another grownup's company, Zipper (yes, that's his name) gets lost in those limpid pools that are Sarandon's eyes.
In a year that has already seen its share of delightful grownup-movie love stories, theirs is perhaps the most intoxicatingly sweet. It's just one more reason to open the door and let The Meddler into your life.
Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.