The Meddler (2016)
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
For the past couple of years, Sam Elliot has played the hyper-masculine love interest of choice for women characters over a certain age—Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Lily Tomlin in “Grandma,” Jane Fonda in “Grace and Frankie”—but in “The Meddler,” a widow played by Susan Sarandon finds similar companionship in a chicken-farming, guitar-playing, equally-mustachioed Californian played by J.K. Simmons…which, despite his much-deserved Oscar win for a couple years ago, feels like a poor substitute. One might even argue Simmons is a better actor, and yet it feels like “The Meddler” settled. You may think this is a minor point, but it’s just the best example to explain how the entire movie feels—fine, but somehow not quite as good as it could have been.
After her husband died, Marnie (Susan Sarandon) moved to Los Angeles to be nearer her only daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), a screenwriter who just got out of a long and happy relationship. But after months of Marnie coming over unannounced, leaving voicemails, and overall just interfering a little too much in her daughter’s life, Lori announces she wants to set some boundaries. So Marnie, needing to feel needed, begins mothering others—including her daughter’s friend (Cecily Strong) and the Apple employee who helps her with her iPad (Jerrod Carmichael)—who appreciate her much more openly.
Susan Sarandon turns 70 this fall, but judging by her longtime political activism (lately she’s been stumping for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders), bold red carpet choices (scandalous if you’re a sexist who thinks actresses can’t show cleavage past a certain age), and overall youthful vigor, you’d hardly guess it. She’s still young at heart. So her meddling character Marnie, an overbearing Brooklyn-accented mother, doesn’t fit her. I’m not ready for Susan Sarandon to act her age. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”) uninspired script muddles Sarandon’s character so that we’re never really sure who she is. The death of Marnie’s husband affects her, that we can understand, but the script doesn’t paint a clear picture as to exactly how. The other characters in “The Meddler” are developed even more poorly. Rose Byrne is forgettable, and her character doesn’t grow much from beginning to end. And Simmons, whose character, like I said, seems like a conglomerate of all those Sam Elliot characters of late, is given lines that seem recycled from other movies too. It sounds so familiar, so rehearsed.
“The Meddler” is the latest evidence that the once-consistent Sony Pictures Classics is past its prime. But Susan Sarandon is very much still in hers. For a movie where she’s in almost every scene, we can be thankful for that.