Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Cecily Strong, Jerrod Carmichael, Jason Ritter, Lucy Punch, Michael McKean
I will say this for writer/director Lorene Scafaria, she sure knows how to invent maddening or borderline annoying characters. In her second feature, the Seeking A Friend at the End of the World director aligns a spectacular cast that affords Oscar winner Susan Sarandon her first leading role since I don’t know when. The controversial political activist and brand ambassador for L'Oreal Paris has long resigned herself to supporting characters, bit parts or cameos. The Meddler joins films like Hello My Name is Doris or I’ll See You in My Dreams, spotlighting actresses over 65 in comeback roles. While Sarandon is endlessly entertaining, when the script focuses developing her character, its uneven, too long, and bloated with entirely too many distracting subplots.
Following the death of her Italian husband Joey, Marnie (Sarandon) leaves her home in New Jersey in order to be closer to daughter Lori (Byrne). Dealing with a difficult breakup and writing a new television pilot, Lori is suffocated by her mother who stops by daily, calls over ten times, and texts non-stop. Marnie is enjoying the beautiful weather of Southern California, spending her late husband’s money on iPhones and iPads, while cruising in a convertible listening to Beyonce. When Lori finally explains the boundaries she is crossing, Marnie spends her time elsewhere, offering money to a lesbian couple so they may have a proper wedding, driving around her Genius Bar clerk and flirting with former LAPD officer Zipper (Simmons).
Sarandon fully develops this character and loses herself inside.
This role requires Sarandon to talk non-stop, it’s almost a maddening character that will infuriate many. It’s the quieter moments that really add up; her character blankly stares at a humming ceiling fan or spending time alone at The Grove. We feel empathy for this woman who seems to be hiding pain. Although the majority of the audience will be able to identify someone they know exactly like Marnie, Sarandon fully develops this character and loses herself inside. However, Marnie changes when Simmon’s character is around, the entire speed of the film comes to a halt. It’s almost as if Scafaria wrote this character for a television series and tried to condense everything into a two-hour film. While Byrne appears on the poster and gets second billing, she is on screen very little and devastatingly miscast.
I think some writer/directors are better off doing one or the other. While I understand cultivating a project, especially a personal one, and wanting to see that vision make it to the screen unchanged. Both of Scafaria’s films could have benefited from a director helping to organize the characters, focus and messy plot. Director Nicole Holofcener, Catherine Hardwicke or other directors might have been able to turn this ok film into a great one. The Meddler is equal parts comedy and drama, strongest when the audience can laugh. Like Marnie going to the same therapist as her daughter, starting conversations with “anyway”, or her obsession with gifting Apple products. There are so many subplots that fail to advance our leading lady’s narrative that the running time begins to take its toll.
Sarandon shines in a film that doesn’t know when to shut up.