The Meddler

THE MEDDLER. Starring: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K.Simmons, Cecily Strong, and Jerrod Carmichael. Directed by Lorene Scafaria. Rated M (Drug references and infrequent coarse language). 103 min.

This American comedy-drama is about a lonely widow, who wants to help restart her daughter's life, and she thinks that lots of other people need her help as well. The film is loosely biographical, and is based on the experiences of the Director with her own mother, after her father died.

Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) is the widow, eager to help. When her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), a successful, single woman, who is a TV-writer, moves to Los Angeles, Marnie follows her. Immediately, Marnie starts interfering in Lori's life. She gives advice where it is not wanted, phones and texts her daughter constantly for contact, and frequently shows up unexpectedly at her daughter's house, bearing food in hand.

Her daughter starts avoiding her, and Marnie interferes in the lives of others. She gives thousands of dollars to a girl friend of her daughter's (Cecily Strong), hoping that she will have an especially nice wedding; she drives an Apple salesman she doesn't really know (Jerrod Carmichael) three nights a week to evening classes; she contacts her daughter's therapist to discuss how her daughter is coping; and she gives reproductive advice to women at a baby shower. Her acts of generosity are "crazy" and all embracing. She fails to see differences between one person and another, and she is compulsively driven to help.

Resenting her mother's interference and stressed by a recent break-up with a boyfriend, Lori tries to set boundaries in her relationship with her. When Lori pushes her away, Marino shifts her need elsewhere, and experiences the opportunity to form new relationships. By chance, she meets a laid-back, retired policeman, Zipper (J. K. Simmons), who raises chickens for their free-range eggs, and who is attracted romantically to her. Zipper offers Marnie a means to escape her loneliness as a widow, and Marnie is challenged by his wanted attention. The loss of her husband is still raw for her, and she is hesitant to let someone else fill his space.

Marnie's character is one that projects smothering, mothering, longing, neediness, and romancing, and Susan Sarandon is delightful in the role. The film's direction is well controlled, it has a strong story-line, and character development in the movie is nicely handled. There is gentle humour in the foibles of the people Marnie meets, and it helps to make the film very enjoyable.

Sarandon brings subtlety, and sensitivity to her role in an entirely spontaneous way, and she becomes completely absorbed in it. She expertly plays the doting mother, but also a very caring one, and captures the frustrations of loneliness and grief effectively. Happily married once to a loving husband, she finds it hard to cope with new encounters. The film presents a series of dramatic-comedy vignettes that work movingly, and realistically, to show her changing over time.

This is a charming, funny movie that gives a dramatic twist to human relationships in a slightly quirky way. It is not razor sharp in its social commentary, and it stays at the level of being a congenial movie about caring motherhood, but the film deals humanely with a wide range of serious issues - including grief and loss, ageing, the importance of defining boundaries in personal interactions, gender equality, mother-daughter reconciliation, and the need for a lonely person to experience how to live again. It skirts over them, but in an understanding way.

This is an honest, self-reflective film with lots of truths to ponder, that personalises, compassionately, familiar life experiences. It is sentimental in parts, but it is basically a gentle movie, directed dramatically in comic vein, about a vibrant, loving woman, with human frailties, learning to re-engage with the world that is around her.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Sony Pictures

Released May 22nd., 2016

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