Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria | 100 min | ▲▲▲△△
Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) is a newcomer to Los Angeles. She’s originally from New Jersey, but her husband died about a year back and since her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), works in Hollywood as a writer, Marnie figured she would go out there, too.
But Marnie doesn’t have enough to do. She fills her time calling and texting Lori, spending time with Lori’s friends (including Cecily Strong and Lucy Punch), and finding things to spend her money on, while doing her best to ignore the fact she’s still grieving her husband and, maybe, feeling guilty that her life now is so easy since he left her “set up for life.” In case we haven’t figured out Marnie’s telegraphed problems for ourselves, she goes to a therapist (Amy Landecker) who explains it. Naturally, Marnie also has romantic interest from a handsome, moustachioed man (JK Simmons in the Sam Elliott role), but can’t get out of her own way to appreciate him.
With last year’s I’ll See You In My Dreams, the Lily Tomlin triumph Grandma, and this film, stories of women later in life enjoying California, messing with weed, and getting along fabulously without men are becoming their own genre. Sarandon is terrific playing a character just this side of maddening, making the best of a script just the other side of cliched.
There is a lot to enjoy here, but the pathos isn’t quite as affecting as it was in I’ll See You In My Dreams, and the comedy isn’t as edgy or surprising as in Grandma. The Meddler treads a middle ground, avoiding dealing with heavier issues such as depression in seniors, while also not going as broadly funny in set pieces like a same-sex wedding on a boat, or an accidental visit to a film shoot.
Instead, The Meddler defaults to an amiable and inoffensive sweetness. That’s OK, since Sarandon carries the day, playing a mom a lot of people will recognize in their own lives. But there could’ve been more to recommend here.