I confess I wasn’t much relishing the prospect of The Meddler, a comedy starring Susan Sarandon as a widow in her 60s who cannot stop herself interfering in the life of her adult daughter.
Yet the film turns out to have more charm, wit and agreeable plot twists than that bare outline might suggest. Sarandon plays the role of overbearing Marnie with great skill, emphasising her essential goodness and kindness as well as her inability to respect other people’s boundaries.
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Marnie is a New Yorker whose husband died two years previously. She has moved to Los Angeles to be near her daughter Lori (played splendidly by Rose Byrne). Lori, a screenwriter, cannot hide her exasperation at her mother’s desire to micro-manage her life. When Lori has to spend time in New York to work on a new TV series, Marnie throws herself into the circle of her daughter’s friends, who appreciate her more than Lori does: on a whim she decides to pay for and plan the wedding of one of Lori’s gay girl-friends (Cecily Strong), and to help a modest, polite young clerk at the local Apple store (Jerrod Carmichael) who wants to better his life. Marnie also tries to rekindle the romance between Lori and her former boy-friend (Jason Ritter) – much to Lori’s annoyance.
It all works rather well. Sarandon has terrific comedy timing and can mine more humour from a withering glance than most actors could from a whole comic monologue. It also helps that Marnie is a genuinely rounded character: she can certainly irritate, but she’s also well-meaning and steadfast. She can be the life and soul of any gathering, yet in fleeting moments it’s clear that she remains a woman recovering from grief.
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There’s a faint prospect of romance with a man who is clearly her opposite – a calm, easy-going retired motorcycle cop with a taste for country music. (He’s played by J.K. Simmons, so memorable in Whiplash). The scenes between them are funny and delightful.
The film’s writer-director Lorene Scafaria has admitted that Marnie is based on her own mother. That accounts for its authenticity – and it makes The Meddler a teasing, affectionate love letter as well as a warm, likable film.
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