'The Meddler' Pokes Fun Without Mocking The Mom

Apr 22, 2016
Originally published on May 10, 2016 3:08 pm

We all love our mothers, right? Though sometimes they drive us crazy. From the title of Susan Sarandon's new comedy, The Meddler, you might guess that mix of fealty and frustration informs the worldview of filmmaker Lorene Scafaria, and you'd be right.

The film centers on Marnie (Sarandon), a widow who's moved to L.A. after her husband's death to be closer to Lori (Rose Byrne), her screenwriter daughter. And that's a good thing, as they're both still grieving — though Lori sometimes feels as smothered as she does mothered.

She decides she needs to have an "establishing boundaries" conversation.

"I've been talking to my therapist," she begins, and you see Marnie's eyes moisten before she even gets to the "boundaries" part. Then mom's out the door, and straight to the therapist. The therapist they share — so much for boundaries.

Small wonder Lori is relieved when producers for the quasi-autobiographical TV show she's writing wants to send her out of town for a few weeks. Marnie will follow, but not right away. First she turns her attentions elsewhere — to wedding planning for Lori's best friend, and chauffeuring a guy she meets at an Apple store's Genius Bar to his night classes.

Always, she's doing too much. And always, she's staying a little too connected to her daughter.

Writer/director Scafaria — Lorene, which is not Lori, but close — was herself followed out to L.A. by her own mom after her dad died. And her real mom did many of the more outlandish things Sarandon does on screen, which, truth be known, qualifies as good comic material — yet another gift from a mom who can't help herself with the giving.

Scafaria created The Meddler as a tribute to her mom, but it also turns out to be a gift for Sarandon, a mature actress who hasn't had a lot of starring roles lately, and whose radiance is allowed to light up the screen here. Especially when a retired cop, played by J.K. Simmons is turning on his slightly offbeat brand of charm, chattering away about his chickens, and his Harley, and making her (and the audience) smile.

The rhythms here may be sitcom-ish, but Scafaria isn't mocking, she's appreciating. A fact that should make The Meddler kind of ideal as a mother-daughter date movie, just in time for Mother's Day.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We all love our mothers, but sometimes they drive us crazy. Sorry, Mom. You might guess that's the case for filmmaker Lorene Scafaria. The title of her new comedy, starring Susan Sarandon, is "The Meddler." Here's NPR critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Marnie's move to LA after her husband's death to be closer to her screenwriter daughter is a good thing - sort of.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MEDDLER")

SUSAN SARANDON: (As Marnie) Lor? You're not bringing the mail...

ROSE BYRNE: (As Lori) Mom, you have to ring the doorbell.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) But I've got the key.

MONDELLO: Marnie, played by Susan Sarandon, just wants to help, and Lori, played by Rose Byrne, appreciates that. Still, her mom overdoes, bringing bagels every morning, showing up at baby showers as Lori's plus-one even if Lori doesn't go. Lori finally decides she needs to have the conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MEDDLER")

BYRNE: (As Lori) I've been talking to my therapist about this, and I think it's time that we set some boundaries.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) Sure. I get it. You need to write, and I need to get out of your office.

BYRNE: (As Lori) But you don't have to leave right now.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) No, it's fine, it's fine. I don't want to be crossing anybody's boundaries.

MONDELLO: Out the door and straight to the therapist...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MEDDLER")

SARANDON: (As Marnie) I don't know. She seems so angry all the time. You've been seeing her for a while. Has she always seemed so angry?

MONDELLO: Yeah, Marnie is going to her daughter's therapist. So much for boundaries. Small wonder Lori is relieved when a TV show she's writing wants to send her out of town.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MEDDLER")

BYRNE: (As Lori) I have to go to New York for a few weeks.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) New York?

BYRNE: (As Lori) I leave tomorrow.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) Tomorrow? If I go with you, I could be, like, your assistant.

MONDELLO: When her daughter does escape, Marnie turns her attentions elsewhere - wedding planning for Lori's best friend, chauffeuring a guy she meets at an Apple store to his night classes, always too much and always staying connected to her daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MEDDLER")

SARANDON: (As Marnie) Call me and let me know you got in safe. Oh, and remind me to tell you what your therapist said.

MONDELLO: Filmmaker Lorene Scafaria - Lorene, not Lori, but close - was herself followed out to LA by her own mom after her dad died. And her real mom did many of the more outlandish things Sarandon is doing on-screen. Good comic material - yet another gift from a mom who can't help herself with the giving. Scafaria created "The Meddler" as a tribute to her mom, but it also turns out to be a gift for Sarandon, a mature actress whose radiance has allowed to light up the screen here, especially when a retired cop, played by J.K. Simmons, is turning on his slightly offbeat brand of charm.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MEDDLER")

J.K. SIMMONS: (As Zipper) You got your dog people and your cat people. I am a man with chickens.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) Get outta here. Chickens?

SIMMONS: (As Zipper) Absolutely.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) How many?

SIMMONS: (As Zipper) Well, you know what they say about counting chickens.

SARANDON: (As Marnie) No.

SIMMONS: (As Zipper) You don't know what they say about counting chickens, really?

SARANDON: (As Marnie) No.

SIMMONS: (As Zipper) Didn't your grandma ever tell you that?

SARANDON: (As Marnie) No, we didn't - my grandma didn't have chickens.

MONDELLO: Does anyone do clueless as sweetly as Sarandon? The rhythms in "The Meddler" may be sitcom-ish, but Scafaria isn't mocking, she's appreciating. And that should make "The Meddler" kind of ideal as a mother-daughter date movie just in time for Mother's Day. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.