The Meddler Directed by Lorene Scafaria

The Meddler Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Photo by Jamie Trueblood, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
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Forget Garry Marshall's latest star-studded cinematic bastardization/capitalization of whatever holiday is in season: The Meddler is the movie you need to take your mom (or maternal figure) to this Mother's Day.
 
It would be easy for the general movie-going public to lump Susan Sarandon's latest feature in with the coming-of-old-age romantic comedies that seem to be so popular right now (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and, to a lesser extent, Michael Showalter's secretly heartfelt My Name is Doris come to mind), but The Meddler isn't your traditional mother-daughter sob story with a bright ending (although it certainly has moments like that).
 
Based on filmmaker Lorene Scafaria's (2008's Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, 2012's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) own relationship with her mother, Sarandon plays Marnie, a widow who moves to Los Angeles from Brooklyn to be closer to her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), an unhappy and unsatisfied screenwriter still dealing with the death of her father. All Marnie wants is to be a part of her life, but Lori views her as a massive inconvenience, which leads to many unanswered voicemails and texts.
 
After her daughter scores a lucrative gig back in New York City for a six-month stint, Marnie decides to fill the void with whatever activity she can — planning the wedding one of Lori's closest friends (SNL's Cecily Strong) could never have afforded; volunteering at a local hospital; even befriending an employee from a local Apple store (comedian Jerrod Carmichael, who exhibits striking restraint in one of his most serious roles yet) and helping him enrol in night school. Marnie's therapist views these activities as some sort of coping mechanism based on guilt for living life without her husband, and the sizeable fortune she inherited from him, but while that's probably pretty obvious to the viewer, don't think The Meddler is some sort of pity party.
 
For all its rumination on dealing with the loss of a loved one, mortality and leaving your mark on the world, there's an energy to The Meddler that never lets its messages fall flat or feel too heavy-handed. A lot of that has to do with Sarandon, an ever-evolving actress who delivers one of the strongest performances of her nearly 50-year career here by being the pure embodiment of charm and optimism. Her character, for the most part, approaches life like it's a glass half full, making Lori's strained relationship and short temper with her mother feel all the more shameful (that is, until the real reasons for her hurt are unveiled in the film's final two acts).
 
The Meddler is the kind of movie that makes you want to call your mom, dad — or any loved ones really — to express your appreciation for them; it's an emotionally mature film, and by far the best picture Scafaria's done yet.

(Mongrel Media)