|movie review | December 2016
Lots of laughs, lots of heart:
"The Meddler" explores the mother-daughter bond
by Anita Casey-Reed
One great thing about the holiday season is how it brings families together. One occasionally not-so-great thing about the holiday season is how it can be a bit uncomfortable to be back together with family when parents still think of their children as children instead of independent adults. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria's 2016 film, "The Meddler", is based on her own relationship with her beloved mother. And it works spectacularly because of how she takes what might seem a tired, one-joke premise (a lonely mother is overly involved in her daughter's life) and turns it into a heartfelt meditation into the complex relationship between parents and children when they must move beyond their old roles.
A big part of the success of this movie is due to the performances. Susan Sarandon shines as Marnie Minervini, a recently-widowed New Yorker who moves to Los Angeles to be with her only child Lori (Rose Byrne). Marnie has so much energy and enthusiasm pent up inside her that she can't help becoming involved in people's lives -- which is great for the people she meets and 'mothers' on a regular basis, but exhausting for her actual daughter. If you only know Rose Byrne from some of her broader comedic work in the "Neighbors" movies or last summer's "Spy", you may be pleasantly surprised with how well she holds her own with Sarandon not just in the film's lighter moments, but in the more dramatic scenes as well.
But "The Meddler" is not just about the mother/daughter relationship. As Marnie begins to move through her new city, she meets a Harley-riding ex-cop named Zipper. Played by J.K. Simmons (light years away from his Oscar-winning role in "Whiplash"), Zipper has hidden depths and quirks, which really only work because Simmons always has a fantastic way of bringing a lived-in reality to his characters.
Be forewarned: the trailer emphasizes the comedy of "The Meddler" in such a way that you might think it's nothing more than a laugh-riot. It's actually a film with an enormous amount of empathy for its characters, and has a lot to say about the way different people react to grief and loss, and how they begin to move on when they are confronted with a "new normal" in their lives and their families.
Rated PG-13 for a bit of brief drug content, "The Meddler" is a compact and rare gem that will stick with you, and may even make you appreciate your relatives a bit more.
Anita Casey-Reed is a member of the Cinema 100 Film Society and a volunteer for the Dakota Digital Film Festival. She lives in Bismarck with her husband and two children.