James Cole Clay // Film Critic
THE MEDDLER | 100 min | PG-13
THE MEDDLER rises above its candy-coated title with an endearing story that taps into a central family drama with a sprinkle of indie quirk.
The film was inspired by writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s relationship with her overbearing mother. It takes the approach to “a mother’s work is never done” with Susan Sarandon, who gives one of her most nuanced, albeit plucky roles in years.
Marnie (Sarandon) is an east coast Italian with a robust Long Island accent that instantly gives her an earnest flavor. She recently relocated to Los Angeles to be close to her 30-something screenwriting daughter named Lori (Rose Byrne), who is currently nursing from a bad breakup with a humdrum action-star named Jake (Jason Ritter) and has become a recluse. Keep in mind, this 3,000-mile move across country was completely unsolicited.
Sarandon plays Marnie with an insufferable brilliance. She has nothing but time on her hands after her beloved husband passed two years prior, leaving her with a small fortune that she says will carry her through the golden years. There’s an apparent closeness in the mother-daughter relationship that is strained by Marnie’s persistence to inform Lori of innocuous daily occurrences, like a serial killer on the loose or Beyonce lyrics. Marnie hasn’t learned her place– she acts as den mother to Lori’s group of friends by funding a wedding and buying iPads for newborn babies.
Lori is just looking for love in the form of space, but Marnie hasn’t come to terms with the difficulties of grieving properly. There’s an emptiness to Marnie that she tries to fill by replacing those she has lost, and the problem is she’s driving everybody bonkers. Scafaria has adeptly navigated a territory within the “indie dramedy” that comments on the lack of communication between family members and celebrates its own tropes without sacrificing any of the quirkiness. Marnie is hesitant, but finds a possible romance in a retired policeman Zipper (J.K. Simmons) one day after stumbling onto the set of a film as an extra. The confident tenderness of Simmons is unlike we have seen from the accomplished performer, he’s actually a romantic lead.
Scafaria’s work in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD veered from silly to somber in way that hasn’t been replicated in recent memory, but for the familial contrivances there’s heartwarming truths at work here when it comes to navigating parent-adult child relationships. Scafaria is slyly able to juxtapose the baby boomer generation against Generation-X. Byrne plays Lori with a distant callousness that’s manages to be infectious. With every role in the past five years, Byrne has challenged her skills as an actor to become one of the more versatile talents in the business.
THE MEDDLER proves yet again that Sarandon is a star that has the ability to effortlessly embody a character without ever missing a beat. Loving and losing family are hard waters to navigate and this film proves that it can be done with the lovable and light touch of this inspired indie comedy.
THE MEDDLER opens today.