In what amounts to nothing more than a run-of-the-mill sitcom, “The Meddler” wants to be something it’s not. The story of meddling mother Marnie (Susan Sarandon) and her semi-successful screenwriter daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) struggles through the thick weeds of platitudes. Marnie has relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her kid. There’s a barrage of unexpected visits and dozens of phone calls and texts that comprise the majority of the movie. So much so that even I started to get annoyed by the meddling!
Sarandon is fantastic and convincing as the still-grieving mother and at least is able to display her extensive emotional range. Even Byrne, an actress I’m not fond of, wasn’t annoying in this role. The performances aren’t the problem, it’s the pedestrian directing, phony dialogue, and aimless story.
A lot of the mother-daughter dialogue and situations are so bogus that the characters quickly become bothersome. I’ve lived most of my adult life as a daughter with a widowed mother so I have plenty of experience. The level of meddling is just too outrageous to believe. There are too many forced situations, from grief spending and drug tripping to an unsavvy confusion over an iPhone (I’m sick to death of seeing older people fumble with new technology in movies, this is a ridiculous stereotype that needs to go away).
There’s a lot of meddling and pandering to the audience (Marnie pays for a very expensive lesbian wedding because wow, she’s generous and open-minded) with small bits of ‘wacky’ situations. Things really pick up once Zipper (J.K. Simmons) arrives, playing a Harley riding, chicken serenading ex-cop. Simmons is a believable love interest even though he’s basically playing his own version of a Sam Elliott character.
The film feels very personal for writer/director Lorene Scafaria and I’m sure it’s sincere and comes from the heart, but it’s far from successful. “The Meddler” is a well-choreographed, mapped-out cliché, a rip-off of the far better (and much more organic) “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” Rent that one instead.
“The Meddler” is a decidedly adult dramedy that explores the relationship between parents and their adult children. It’s a movie that feels deeply personal; the kind of movie that will be best-received by those who can relate to the relationship between recently-widowed mom Marnie (Susan Sarandon) and daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). The problem, however, is that audience is extremely limited. And while there’s some good stuff there for the rest of us, there’s not enough of it.
The acting is fairly solid; as you might expect, Sarandon is excellent as Marnie. The rest of the actors ranged from over-the-top comical (Lucy Punch) to decent (Cecily Strong) to very good (J.K. Simmons). As Marnie’s potential love interest Zipper, Simmons is hugely likable; it is his chemistry with Sarandon that elevates the movie and infuses it with an energy that makes his story line stand out from the rest. Unfortunately, the film spends too much time on other characters and storylines that are much less compelling.
And that’s the primary problem with the movie: it feels like a series of “and then” events that almost play like vignettes and have little connective tissue that holds them together. If not for the relationship between Marnie and Lori, there would be no sense of structure or beginning, middle, and end. Very little changes over the course of the movie and what resolution there is feels largely unsatisfying.
As a whole, “The Meddler” isn’t terrible, but I can’t really say it’s worth watching, either.