Review: The Meddler
By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
A master of finding intersecting lines between comedy and drama, writer-director Lorene Scafaria has crafted a touching and yet still often laugh out loud funny film in The Meddler, using feel good humour to sensitively explore the different ways people grieve.
This is the sort of film you can see with your mother, which I did during TIFF, and both walk away with a smile on your face, and I mean that in the absolute best possible way.
The meddler of the title is Marnie (Susan Sarandon), a constant do-gooder who has just moved to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), who is trying to live her own life.
Armed with a brand new iPhone from the Apple Store conveniently located across the street from her new place, Marnie is in frequent contact with her daughter through countless and charmingly mundane phone messages, many of which go unanswered. This is Marnie’s way of grieving the death of her husband, but Lori is dealing with her grief in a different way, stressing herself out over the television pilot she is working on, and growing exasperated with her mother’s excessive attention.
This leaves Marnie to become overly involved in other people’s lives, even helping out many of Lori’s friends, using the wealth she has inherited to buy lavish gifts and also plan a young mother’s (Cecily Strong) wedding, among other things. But a chance encounter with a charming retired police officer (J.K. Simmons), after she becomes an accidental extra on a film set no less, might just allow Marnie to finally start letting herself work through the repressed emotional pain of her husband’s death.
Like in her equally excellent but severely underrated 2011 film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Lorene Scafaria stages some wildly funny situations here that feel completely grounded because of the tremendous amount of heart behind them. With a highly perceptive and very personal screenplay based on her own mother, The Meddler is equally memorable for its quiet dramatic moments and clear-eyed observations on grief and how people deal with the death of a loved one. The many story strands all come together beautifully, including a deeply moving subplot involving Marnie’s volunteer work at the hospital, where she befriends a lonely old lady (Jo Jordan).
The uniformly excellent cast does memorable work bringing these characters to life. The film provides a sparkling showcase for Susan Sarandon, who shines in a captivating and fully realized performance that reminds us just how wonderful she can be. It’s some of her best work. Rose Byrne has become one of our best comedic actors as of late, and here she reminds us that she is equally adept at delivering affecting dramatic work. J.K. Simmons is immensely charming here, showing off his impressive range on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from his Oscar-winning performance in Whiplash.
It can’t be understated just how much the success of The Meddler rests in the cumulative efforts of Lorene Scafaria and Susan Sarandon, who have pooled their talents together and work here in perfect unison to create something truly magical. This is one of those special films that manages to be genuinely hilarious one moment, and honestly moving the next. And see it with your mother, if you can.