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She’s the friendly woman not averse to dispensing motherly advice to anyone who will listen. She’s often helping other people in need, even to the point of giving them expensive gifts that they could eventually use. She talks to anyone who will talk to her. She radiates a comfortable warmth, and yet, she’s alone. And lonely.
What a wonderful picture The Meddler is. It’s not often that I get to see a movie that will show me someone I could easily relate to, and also show me someone I could feel repulsed about, and that is what I experienced while at the Angelika. Susan Sarandon starts the movie in pure Earth-mother form as Marnie and stays there, warm, open, not a mean bone in her, a mass of smiles and open gestures, wanting the best for her daughter Lori (an equally excellent Rose Byrne) who’s trying to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. When the movie starts she’s apparently narrating the events of what will be the film, when in reality, she’s just leaving Lori a voice message, albeit a long, long, very long one. [I know mothers like that; I had a mother who did this to me on a regular basis. Yes, it drove me mad, but more about that later.]
Lori, on the other hand, has just ended a relationship with her boyfriend Jason and doesn’t exactly want any kind of help from Marnie, but Marnie can’t seem to take no for an answer and is, as a matter of fact, completely oblivious to Lori’s need for independence. Another film might have made this a rather creepy picture of a clingy mother and her smothered daughter, but The Meddler is different. It presents to you, the viewer, a sense that this is what you will be witnessing — with the requisite blown-out argument somewhere near the climax of the film, something reeking of 80s sensibilities. Nope. The Meddler brings that event much closer to the start, and Marnie, while shaken, doesn’t let this get to her: she gets right back on her feet and while Lori is in New York securing a job, Marnie has her own adventures where she insinuates herself into the lives of others who see her as a blessing rather than a nuisance.
And then she meets a man (well, two, one played for laughs by Michael McKeon), a former cop who now moonlights on the set that one day she wanders into (of which she becomes a part of in a cute film within a film). Zipper, as he’s named, played by J.K. Simmons, openly flirts with her old-school style, and wait until you see how he later in a scene where he takes Marnie to his humble place and introduces her to his chickens (who have a penchant for Dolly Parton covers, go figure) expresses falling smack on his face in love for her. You would love her, too — she’s that kind of woman.
Eventually, The Meddler manages to address that all this being nice to others is really just a ruse for Marnie to negate her own feelings, and here is where the movie starts to reveal layers that an ordinary sitcom-intensive plot would have avoided. Marnie is truly a helpful person, and wherever she goes she leaves an enormous smile on people’s faces, but she’s also lonely. She misses her husband. And she can’t seem to reach out to Lori.
This is a wonderful movie to watch and I could completely identify with it. Having lost my own mother five years ago to a heart condition, I now miss our arguments, one trying to up the other, how she would very much like Sarandon “meddle” with my life even though I would tell her, “Mom, for Christ’s sake I’m a grown man. I’m 40!” Nope–that would fall completely on deaf ears. To her, I was a kid, and I was her boy. How I miss that.
The Meddler is as gentle as it is deep and everyone has their moment to give performances that shine and shed light to others. It’s a wonderfully funny little picture that benefits from its three leads and never veers too far into sentimentalism. Sarandon has never in my eyes been better than she is here, playing the character I came to know as Mom and giving her a fully-blown personality, loving and carefree. It’s a picture of finding love and acceptance within ourselves, finding the good within ourselves, a picture of helping others whom we encounter, and how wonderful is that when it happens?