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Family Movie Review: The Meddler (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 100 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. The film is officially rated PG-13 for “brief drug content,” and there is a little of that. It doesn’t seem like enough to warrant a PG-13 rating, though. Also, major themes about dealing with grief and the loss of a parent; a couple of dating subplots, including the mention of a hookup situation; some talk about sex and some pregnancy tips given at a baby shower.

‘The Meddler’ feels more like a sitcom than a feature film, with a mix of drama and comedy that wraps up neatly. But with its tidiness comes charm and poignancy, too.

By Roxana Hadadi

“The Meddler” isn’t a perfect pick for how to spend Mother’s Day with your parent, but it’s certainly better than the film actually called “Mother’s Day,” which also comes out this week and which is thoroughly garbage.

Starring Susan Sarandon as an overbearing, overeager mom, “The Meddler” is a little too straightforward and slightly anticlimactic, but its characters feel real and its relationships relatable. You’ll squeeze your mother’s hand while watching it, and hopefully the affection evident in the film will mirror your own.

“The Meddler” focus on New Yorker Marnie Minervini (Sarandon, of “Zoolander 2”), who in her 60s is still mourning the death of her husband two years earlier. Feeling lonely with her East Coast life, she decides to move to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne, of “Annie”), a thirtysomething screenwriter who was recently dumped by her up-and-coming actor boyfriend.

But while Marnie revels in the West Coast, spending most of her time at The Grove mall and leaving numerous voicemail messages for Lori, the two of them can’t seem to really connect. Lori feels (justifiably) cramped by Marnie’s constant attempts at contact, at her voicemails that drone on, each beginning with “Anyway,” as if Marnie is continuing a conversation that in reality has never happened. And Marnie lacks any kind of self-awareness, so much so that when Lori tries to set some boundaries by telling her she needs a hobby, Marnie replies “Maybe you could be my hobby.”

This can’t go on, of course, so Marnie turns elsewhere for companionship, offering her involvement and generosity to practical strangers who eventually become friends, after enough of Marnie’s urging—and money, part of a sizable amount left by her deceased husband.

There’s Apple Store employee Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael, of “Neighbors”), who Marnie encourages to attend law school, offering him rides to class and downloading online courses so she can help him study. There’s Lori’s friend Jillian (Cecily Strong), who can’t afford her own wedding, so Marnie offers to foot the bill. And finally there’s new love interest Zipper (J.K. Simmons, of “Zootopia”), a retired cop who rides a Harley Davidson and sings Dolly Parton songs to his chickens—but is Marnie ready for another relationship?

So much of these interactions and secondary characters feel more like ancillary vignettes than crucial elements of “The Meddler’s” plot, and in that way the film often feels structured like a sitcom, with story elements that are introduced, discussed, and then resolved in a manner of minutes. But Sarandon is great here, bringing to mind how excellent Blythe Danner was in the similarly themed “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” and she sells Marnie’s various character quirks, from calling Lori to discuss a new Beyoncé song to showing up at the baby shower of a stranger with a gift.

Ultimately, though, “The Meddler” stumbles in how we’re supposed to view Marnie: Is her “meddling” worthy of our sympathy or our resentment? How much of it is caused by her grief, and how much of it is just who she is—impossible, and unwilling, to change? It’s easy to like a character who generously spreads her time and her wealth where she can, but how Marnie treats Lori is often shockingly inappropriate, like spying on her online browsing history, visiting Lori’s therapist to pump her for information about her daughter, and even encouraging a random guy Lori is seeing to propose to her. Even if they are united in their sadness, the lines are still being crossed.

Too often Marnie’s behavior seems totally unconscionable, and ultimately how you view “The Meddler” will probably be tied to whether you would want your own mother acting this way. But the strength of Sarandon’s performance is affecting, and “The Meddler” is definitely the worthier choice over “Mother’s Day” to bring the women of your family together.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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