This is a capsule review. A full review will be posted closer to release.
“Anyway,” Susan Sarandon’s rich widow Marnie says at the beginning of The Meddler, a movie that opens in media res, and never leaves. That’s not the end of the world for writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s paean to motherhood, though it does make The Meddler mainly a showcase for Sarandon, leading a parade of likeable comic actors nowhere in particular.
The specter of Marnie’s late husband is always looming, but Scafaria goes out of her way to keep the film as conflict light as possible. The waters of L.A. are full of red herrings while Marnie’s struggling daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) is out of town, leaving the overbearing mother to find new people upon whom to lavish attention, money, and Apple products. A wedding she funds as an impulse gesture gets more expensive by the day; an Apple employee (Jerrod Carmichael) Marnie goes to night school with has a troublesome brother; when Lori’s overly attached boyfriend tells Marnie he’s going to make a YouTube proposal video, an embarrassing catastrophe seems imminent.
At every turn, Scafaria denies taking The Meddler to a place where uproarious hijinks abounds, and endangered relationships can only be saved by big speeches about the importance of family. It’s instead a much looser, and frequently funny character study comedy, with Marnie’s nigh-shambolic adventures (including an accidental drug trip, crashing a movie set, and a pregnancy scare) giving Sarandon a meaty role that only looks lightweight.
J.K. Simmons plays one of two suitors for Marnie (never does anything resembling a love triangle appear), and the film, shot in March, likely explains his memorable “call your mom” Oscar-acceptance speech for Whiplash. When you leave The Meddler wanting to talk to your mother, not feeling like you have to, you’ll know that Scafaria has successfully achieved her goal.
Like many a mother, The Meddler can be frustrating on occasion, but is worth giving your time to.