Susan Sarandon is luminous as an emotionally adrift widow in the dramatic comedy “The Meddler,” a deceptively moving film that goes far beyond its purported premise of a mother who meddles in her grown daughter’s life. She does, indeed, do that, but this sweet little film has so much more, not the least of which is J.K. Simmons on a motorcycle.
People ask me all the time to suggest a film without sex or violence that’s not a kids’ movie. Now, in the words of Cher Horowitz in “Clueless,” I see no reason to get rid of violence in shows that “need it for entertainment value”; however, many do. For these delicate souls, I finally have a solid suggestion in “The Meddler.”
Sarandon’s character narrates much of the film through lengthy voicemail messages she leaves for her adult daughter, played with brittle complexity by Rose Byrne. Many adults might recognize these kinds of messages from their own lives, either leaving them or receiving them. However, Sarandon’s character goes far beyond a satisfying cliché of an excessively doting mom. The film delves meaningfully into why and how she feels the way she does.
Above all, mother Marni and daughter Lauri are still in pain from the death of their husband and father. Both have decamped from their native New York City to Los Angeles, Lauri to write a television show and Marni to, as far as we can tell, just follow her daughter. She feels almost burdened by the money her husband left her.
A later scene shows how she really needed to flee the memories of her life in New York with her late husband, and an encounter with his beloved siblings is beautiful. Marni is happy to see them, and they are nice, loving people, but their familiarity is too devastating for her.
Hiding under a story of an overbearing mother is a very truthful and moving story about mourning. The way you see the loss of the same person from two different perspectives is very nicely shown. When Marni finally acquiesces to give her daughter a bit of space, she fills her days overstepping boundaries with some substitute offspring who are more accepting of her time and attention. These relationships fill out the story beautifully.
Best of all is the appearance of the always-welcome J.K. Simmons as a divorced, retired policeman. We expect him to be a romantic interest for lonely Marni, but, as with the rest of the film, their story still feels unexpectedly fresh, honest and moving. The title “The Meddler” reduced Sarandon’s character to a joke, but the film does not. “
The Meddler” is currently available to rent.