Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Stars: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J K Simmons, Michael McKean, Cecily Strong, Lucy Punch, Jerrod Carmichael, Jason Ritter, Billy Magnusson, Jo Jordan, Amy Landecker, Harry Hamlin, Laura San Giacomo, Shiri Appleby, Randall Park.

The Meddler gives Oscar winning veteran Susan Sarandon her best role in years, and she seizes the opportunity with an impassioned and winning performance.

Sarandon playes the recently widowed Marnie Minervini, who leaves her beloved New York behind to move to Los Angeles to be closer to her only daughter Lori (played by Australian actress Rose Byrne), a television producer and scriptwriter. Lori has her own busy and hectic life and is also a little depressed following the breakup of her own relationship with her boyfriend actor Jason (Jason Ritter). She ignores the dozens of phone calls and text message from Marnie. Undeterred by the lack of response from Lori Marnie drops by for a visit with Lori in her apartment. She slowly begins to ingratiate herself into Lori’s life and that of her small circle of friends.

Before long she is attending a baby shower, arranging the wedding of Jillian (Cecily Strong), baby sitting, and generally crossing that mother/daughter boundary. She befriends an elderly woman in hospital and takes a motherly interest in Fredo (Jerrod Carmichael), a young clerk at an Apple store, whom she starts driving to night school and offering some advice about his future. And she finds herself being pursued by two men – the recently widowed Mark (Michael McKean from the Christopher Guest comedies) and Zipper (J K Simmons), a former cop who now moonlights as a security guard on a film set. Marnie even ends up becoming an extra in a couple of films. Marnie is well meaning but smothering and overbearing, but there is something about the way that Sarandon plays her that also makes her an endearing character.

At an age when most actresses find good roles drying up, Sarandon still finds meaty roles, and in Marnie she has found her most nuanced and complex character for quite some time. She relishes this opportunity to deliver a layered performance, and she certainly gets inside Marnie’s skin. Byrne, who is also appearing in the big budget special effects driven Marvel film X-Men: Apocalypse, is also good as Lori, who often finds herself frustrated by Marnie’s interference and intrusion in her life. And Simmons (better known for playing gruff and strong characters such as the volatile music teacher in Whiplash, the evil racist Vern Schillinger in HBO’s Oz, etc) shows a softer and more sensitive side to his screen persona here.

There is a semi-autobiographical nature to the comedy/drama The Meddler, which has been writen and directed by Lorene Scafaria, whose previous film was the low key romantic comedy Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World. This is a bittersweet but gentle comedy about motherhood, the mother/daughter dynamics, finding love at a mature age, loss and moving on. It also mixes some big laughs with some more touching and truthful moments. Unlike the recent ensemble comedy Mother’s Day, The Meddler is actually a warm, heartfelt tribute to the nurturing role played by mothers even as they maybe interfere a bit too much in the lives of their children. Scafaria directs with compassion and sensitivity, and draws good performances from her key cast.



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