Sitting down for a little over an hour and a half with an overbearing mother seems like a headache waiting to happen, a headache many can get for free just by listening to their voicemail. But it doesn’t take long to realize that The Meddler is not a migraine inducer, nor is it a guilt trip. The film is merely a gentle, not at all nagging reminder of what unconditional love looks like.

Susan Sarandon’s Marnie is the meddler in her daughter Lori’s life. Lori (Rose Byrne) and Marnie are still grieving the loss of their father and husband, each displaying common grieving methods—wallow-in-dread and grin-and-bear-it, respectively. Marnie’s overbearing presence in Lori’s life feels all too familiar and all too worn out, with the thick Brooklyn accent and the banal daily voicemails and all those damn bagel deliveries. Marnie relocated to Los Angeles from New Jersey to be near to Lori, but that move seems to have moved them further apart. The idea that her mother would be a constant fixture in her life, a life that is messy and broken, is too much for Lori to deal with. “Maybe you could be my hobby,” Marnie tells Lori as a bagel so perfectly pops from the toaster, not so subtly signaling Lori’s startled horror by the suggestion. Luckily, just as the dull throb of an impending headache threatens the audience, the story quickly diverts from that of an overinvolved mother to a hyper-involved human.

Writer and director Lorene Scafaria alleviates the unoriginality by removing Lori (sent off to New York for a work trip), forcing Marnie to focus her attention elsewhere. Marnie inserts herself into other people’s lives—those of Lori’s friends, that of the “genius bartender” helping her at the Apple Store, that of her romantic love interest. Instead of using the inheritance her husband left behind on trips to exotic hotels or on a Malibu beach house, Marnie uses it to help other people. She pays for the wedding of Lori’s friend, “what’s-her-name” (Cecily Strong), who lost her own mother as a little girl. In a plotline that thankfully veered away from becoming the uncomfortable “white-woman-saves-young-black-teen” story of The Blind Side, Marnie starts driving Freddie (Jerrod Carmichael), her technology hero, to night classes because his own mother uses the family car to work long hours. She isn’t saving Freddie; Freddie is saving her, becoming a source of conversation and youthful energy for a woman who spends too much time alone. Their friendship is by far the sweetest relationship in the film, though everyone with whom Marnie comes into contact seems to brighten with her arrival.

When her therapist suggests that Marnie is using her financial situation to create and sustain relationships, it is tough not to want to take a swipe at the doctor. Why suppress someone who is doing genuine good, who is teaching people what unconditional love looks like? We could use more Marnies in the world. “You’re a therapist, aren’t you supposed to listen?” Marnie challenges, though it might as well be the collective voice of the audience.

Lori, the only character in the film who would ever call Marnie a meddler, eventually comes around to accepting that unconditional love. Marnie, too, undergoes a transformation, letting go of her dead husband and moving on with J.K. Simmons in a role that would have been perfect for Sam Elliott, with the mustache and the chicken coop, but which Simmons plays with so much charm that the casting choice is validated. Marnie gets all that she deserves, with a daughter who needs her and a new chapter of love blossoming, and yet it doesn’t feel easy. Scafaria created a character in Marnie that isn’t too annoying or a harpy. The dialogue feels like conversations between a real mother and daughter, not those so often heard on sitcoms. Things get emotional but never sentimental. Each storyline wraps up positively, though not sickeningly so and not unearned. After all of Marnie’s good deeds, it would feel unkind to not reward her in the end. The ultimate reward? A “Where are you? I’m worried!” voicemail from her daughter. Or maybe even three.

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