The Meddler (2016)

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“Am I asking too many questions?”

In recent years, there have been a number of movies centered on older women still possessing the energy, attachment, and fondness for a life full of youth. It’s a welcome trend, as well as one that has been utterly lacking in the supposed wisdom that comes with age. But now we have The Meddlera smart and lovely and insurmountably intuitive feature film about the connection between parent and child. Directed and written by Lorene Scafaria, the movie shows that friends and relationships may fade, yet in the best of circumstances – and in this particular case – a mother’s love stretches on forever.

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Stylistically, The Meddler has too many themes swirling about at once and doesn’t adhere to a distinct tone, bouncing back and forth between hunky-dory humor and real internalized anguish. And that’s part of what makes it such a breeze to sit through. It knows better than to beg for laughs or to pressure the audience into tears. Two films released last year fit into each of those categories; the intensely overrated Grandma as the former and the endearing I’ll See You in My Dreams as the latter. Scafaria’s story takes components from both: feelings of isolation followed by newfound romance. Unlike either of those previously mentioned though, The Meddler finds equilibrium in the ups and downs of life without drowning itself in misery to force drama, going underwater but seeing that the pool is only 4 feet deep. You may be down, but glimpsing the surface sparks the feeling that you’re never altogether out.

Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a widow from New Jersey now living in LA to be close to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). It might seem unfair to define Marnie by those labels, but she herself wears them with an unassuming and false sense of pride. She’s the overbearing type of Mother, her intentions coming from a good place but always invading and popping personal bubbles. Marnie’s no stranger to complexities, and she seems to behave this way – so erratic and detached – to fill the holes in her empty nester heart. “There are a lot of hours in the day” she says, vacantly staring out her apartment window. What she sees doesn’t enter our vision because it doesn’t matter to her or to us. Led by some of the best work I’ve seen from veteran actress Sarandon, The Meddler imparts small detail after detail, adding up to a full-bodied film full of compassion.

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There are some qualms to be had, like minor characters coming and going too conveniently and too obviously serving our lead. The film also strangely yet rightfully wants to critique our culture’s dependence on cell phones and bought friendship without really committing to either angle. Regardless, despite the quality of Byrne’s performance as the standoffish but dependent daughter, the real emotional hook comes from Marnie’s fling with retired cop Zipper (J.K. Simmons). The pair’s advanced chemistry is a table of emotional beats and longing stares and aw-shucks flattery. The romance just clicks. So while Scafaria’s little indie doesn’t break any boundaries or clear any paths towards fulfillment, because of Marnie’s circumspection inside a cut-off milieu, the script prescribes a proper cure-all; be kind, be generous, and always let love in. Good things will come of it. The Meddler is proof of that.

“Who doesn’t love love?”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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