ReelBob: ‘The Meddler’

By Bob Bloom

Susan Sarandon gives a performance that is as maddening as it is endearing in “The Meddler.”

As the film opens, Sarandon’s Marnie has been widowed for two years and has moved to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Lori — a neurotic writer — vulnerably and angrily portrayed by Rose Byrne.

Marnie is adrift, spending most of her time hovering over her daughter, trying to help her through her various life challenges — and sticking to her like Velcro and inserting herself into every aspect of Lori’s life.

Marnie has no concept of personal boundaries, and is basically oblivious to the stress she creates for Lori.

But when Lori has to go to New York to film a pilot of one of her scripts, Marnie is left behind with plenty of time on her hands and nothing to do.

Sarandon brings a universal quality to her portrayal. We all know mothers like Marnie — heck, some of us even have mothers who resemble her in one way or another.

To fill her void in Lori’s absence, Marnie begins a series of projects — volunteering at a local hospital, paying for the dream wedding of Lori’s friend, Jillian (“Saturday Night Live’s” Cecily Strong) and helping Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), the young man at the Genius bar who helps her with her iPhone at the genius bar, further his education by driving him to night school as well as helping him with his class work.

Inside, though, Marnie remains unfulfilled and continues to mourn the loss of her beloved husband, Joey. She rebuffs any romantic contact with men, because the memory of Joey still burns brightly in her heart.

Her defenses begin to falter after she meets Randy Zipper (Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons), a retired cop who raises chickens, listens to rock music, is divorced and estranged from one of his daughters.

Their casual courtship is one of the movie’s major delights. Together, Sarandon and Simmons (sounds like the name of a law firm) eschew a low-heat chemistry that is endearing to watch as Simmons’ Zipper dances slowly around Marnie until she is emotionally ready to again accept love and companionship.

For writer-director Lorene Scafaria, cellphones are pivotal to the film. The movie opens with Marnie continually calling and/or texting Lori, and throughout the movie most of the other characters are seen talking on the phone or texting, or Googling something on an iPad.

The telling exception is Zipper. True, he has a cellphone, but, unlike the others, it does not seem to be a bodily appendage.

“The Meddler” is a small and charming feature that will gradually embrace you. At first, you may be repulsed by Marnie and her smothering personality, but as the movie progresses, you come to recognize that she is a big-hearted woman with so much love to give that she needs to scour Los Angeles to find people to take it from her.

And in today’s world, we need more people like her.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.

THE MEDDLER
3½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), for drug use

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