What are all moms best at? Everyone knows the answer to that question: forcibly inserting themselves into your life. The Meddler features Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise) as Marnie, a widow that was left with a large sum of money after her husband passed. So, she did the only natural thing and moved from Brooklyn to LA to be closer to her writer daughter Lori (Rose Byrne; Neighbors). Still reeling from a recent breakup, Lori is depressed and only wants to be alone. She goes to great lengths to avoid social events with her friends but unfortunately can’t avoid her mother who has a key to her house
Director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) accurately captures how ingratiating a mother’s unwanted help can be, despite good intentions. Everyday Marnie calls repeatedly and leaves meandering voicemails that aren’t actually about anything. She asks her 30 something daughter to text her each time she leaves the house and does things after beings specifically asked not to. As Lori tries to set boundaries, Marnie uses her free time to become a part of other peoples lives. She attaches herself to Lori’s friends and other strangers she meets, offering unsolicited advice at every turn. Marnie starts driving an Apple store employee to night school, planning (and funding) a wedding for Lori’s friend, and helps a bedridden woman at the local hospital. She fully occupies herself with financially and emotionally helping others.
Marnie creates relationships with others to fill the hole left by her late husband. After she starts seeing Lori’s therapist and gets approached by interested men, she exposes how fragile she is. Any mention of his passing and she’ll change the topic. It’s clear that both she and Lori are still grieving their loss, but the film does not fully explore its effects. It gestures towards these deeper feelings but barely skims the surface before reverting back to comedy.
The few glimpses into her true emotional state occur when she meets Zipper (J.K. Simmons; Whiplash), a retired cop who raises chickens. Simmons, for his part, is thoroughly charismatic as her Harley-loving suitor. His gentle approach and understanding of her behavior only serve to further endear him. As their romance grows, there are telling moments when Marnie deliberately pulls back. He invites her over, but she declines even though she is interested. She is still connected her late husband and isn’t ready to move on to someone else.
Despite her antics, Marnie never becomes unlikable. Even as she tries to steer Lori’s love life or uses salt bagels as a form of mental and emotional help, her deep affection for her daughter is always apparent. However, the film focuses too much on this behavior without thoroughly examining her and Lori’s grief. It sticks to the easy laughs and misses the opportunity to provide insights into the emotional aftermath of a losing a loved one. Without this added depth, The Meddler remains an agreeable comedy, but falls short of its potential and lacks the dramatic heft needed to give it staying power.