The Meddler is a deeply felt film that transcends the specific to reveal a loving, if exasperated, appreciation for the moms of the world.
One of the brilliant touches in director Lorene Scafaria’s script is the voice over, which is done in rambling voicemail messages that Marnie (Susan Sarandon) leaves for her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). Anyone who’s received a message like this will be able to relate, as she attempts to squeeze in every thought and bit of news. Lori is a screenwriter, single and mired in a depressive funk after a breakup with an actor and the death of her father. Marnie, too, is trying to find her way in the world in the wake of her husband’s death, having moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter.
So when Lori, feeling smothered, pushes away her meddling mom, Marnie finds other people to tend to. She befriends Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), a young Genius Bar employee at the Apple Store who helps her with her iPhone; she drives him to and from night school. She also babysits for Jillian (Cecily Strong), one of Lori’s friends, and helps her plan her dream wedding (Blues Traveler included).
Marnie finds some adventure along the way, too. She accidentally wanders onto a movie set and becomes an extra for the day. After a mishap with Freddy’s brother, she finds herself stoned and meets a friendly former cop, Zipper (J.K. Simmons). But all the meddling becomes a way for her to avoid dealing with her deeper emotional issues, including the devastating loss of her husband.
The Meddler’s honesty and authenticity pay off beautifully, with its accurate depiction of the double-sided love — at once irritated and deeply needy — that an adult daughter can have for her overly involved mother. That nuanced portrayal of such a delicate relationship is powered by the funny and sweet performance by Sarandon, who is as good as she’s ever been. She makes her character lovable and charming, even in her most intrusive moments, and she’s impossible to resist. But there’s also a bittersweetness, a sadness to her meddling, which she does for a lack of anything else to do. Her desire to be loved, to be needed, is palpable and moving.
Rose Byrne is also spot-on as the anxious and frayed Lori. The two actresses perfectly capture the sometimes competing desires of mothers who want to see their children happy, and daughters who want to be happy for their mothers. It’s a complicated emotional register, but Scafaria, Byrne and Sarandon get it perfectly right.
Rated PG-13 for brief drug content. 1:40. Kentucky.