Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a recent widow who has followed her television screenwriter daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) from New York to Los Angeles. Marnie’s late husband left her financially secure and she needs to do nothing but enjoy the weather and her new apartment. Instead, she focuses on her daughter’s life. Lori has recently broken up with her actor boyfriend and is attempting to develop a television pilot. She is somewhat depressed as well as being exhausted from overwork. As a result, she has no emotional resources to deal with her lonely mother.
Marnie isn’t the sort of parent who recognizes boundaries and she is forever turning up at Lori’s home wanting to talk. She telephones multiple times a day, and as a result, their relationship is fraying. Lori is frustrated by the very presence of Marnie. Both women are still grieving. Their suffering has isolated them from each other.
Which sounds somewhat grim, however writer-director Lorene Scafaria has written a gently paced character comedy. Marnie is an optimistic woman who usually embraces life and appears, on the surface, to have adjusted to her widowed status. When Lori’s job takes her out of the city, Marnie “meddles” in the lives of virtual strangers as a way to cope. At a deep level she knows things are not okay, but denial of negative emotions is her other way of coping.
Marnie is not a great listener. She hardly seems to understand who Lori is. However she champions her daughter at all times. She is a loving, generous person who wants to help others. She is also capable of cluelessness about the world around her and she has a certain obliviousness to the feelings of others. Susan Sarandon makes all of this work. She perfectly embodies the kind of person whom you might begin thinking of as selfless and then eventually see as selfish.
At first, Byrne’s Lori comes off as a dour, ungrateful scold. Fortunately, we are given glimpses of a more rounded woman. Lori is a thirty-something New York screenwriter transplanted to the West Coast. Her family has an Italian American heritage on her father’s side. A swift Googling, reveals that Lorene Scafaria has used some of her own story here, yet Lori is somewhat sketchily drawn and she is more difficult to connect with than her problematical mom. JK Simmons (WHIPLASH) plays Zipper, a laidback ex-policeman who is a potential suitor for Marnie, but is smart enough to take it slow. He is all quirks and cowboy charisma. Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong is a friend of Lori’s whom Marnie decides to help. Britain’s Lucy Punch plays yet another friend and Spinal Tap’s Michael McKean plays her father. Considering the comedic chops of this trio, they are weirdly underused.
THE MEDDLER has a rather meandering storyline that attempts to examine the relationship of an ageing mother and her adult daughter. It has some insight, quite a few laughs and some charming scenes. Mostly, it has a great lead performance by Susan Sarandon. You will recognise her Marnie Minervini.
THE MEDDLER is currently in limited Australian release. It runs for 100 minutes. (6/10)