Movie Review: “The Meddler”

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The best of this year’s admittedly weak selection of Mother’s Day movies, the one getting a wider release AFTER the Hallmark holiday, is “The Meddler,” a broad and uneven comedy that coasts by on the charms of Susan Sarandon and the twinkle of J.K. Simmons.

Writer-director Lorene Scafaria won this battle with the casting. Her slight, unchallenging comedy about a hovering Jersey mom who has moved to LA to be nearer her “We need some boundaries” daughter, relies on low-hanging fruit for its jokes. But Sarandon in the title role, Rose Byrne as the put-upon daughter and Simmons doing his best Sam Elliott impression as the possible “love interest” give it the spark of life.

Marnie has been widowed a while, and has decided to fill her days with phone calls to her daughter, a TV writer (Byrne). Or pop in visits.

“I brought bagels!”

Marnie is lonely, given to impulsive gestures like, well “bagels.” Oh, and paying for the wedding of “what’s-her-name” (Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live”), a distant friend of her daughter’s.

But daughter Lori has her own issues. She’s newly dumped, by an actor, no less. She’s got a sitcom script to polish. She’s barely keeping it together and Mom cannot help but bring up her ex. Incessantly.

” I think we should get you a hobby.” Why not volunteer at the hospital? At least that’ll keep her from grilling Lori’s shrink for details about why she’s so sad.

Marnie is outgoing, though you sense she was something of a shrinking violet around her late husband’s gregarious Italian family. She trots out astrological judgments, unsolicited advice and presents. She still misses her husband and is in a little denial over that. She fills her time by imposing her generosity of spirit upon others.

“The Meddler” is a film of cute moments and the odd touching scene, which serve to interrupt the steady cavalcade of cliches. Marnie stumbles onto a movie set and is mistaken for “background” (an extra). Marnie stumbles across an old woman who has lost her voice in the hospital. Marnie takes too much of an interest in her favorite Apple Store employee’s (Jerrod Carmichael) education and life.

But Sarandon gives this material plenty of grace notes, imparting the sensual delights of the perfectly prepared, farm-fresh egg-in-a-hole.

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She gets to play that because Marnie is set up to be charmed by the mustachioed and twinkly ex-cop turned chicken farmer Zipper. Simmons literally lights up the movie in his scenes with her.

Will Marnie learn to move on, live again and maybe stop bugging her only child to death? You don’t have to be a mom to know the answers. You just have to have a mom, “a birth mom” or that winning substitute characters talk about her, “an Earth mom” — somebody who cares enough to get under foot, and stay there.

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for brief drug content

Cast: Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Cecily Strong
Credits: Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria.  A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:40

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