Thursday, May 12, 2016

She marches into her daughter's life

Susan Sarandon taps her inner New Jersey in The Meddler.

Marnie Minervini is the kind of person (you probably know at least one) who leaves exceptionally long phone messages. For Marnie leaving a phone message becomes part of a ceaseless monologue in which she expresses her needs and concerns. The major recipient of these lengthy messages is Lori, Marnie's grown daughter.

As a screenwriter trying to recover from a failed romance, the last thing Lori wants is a close and confiding relationship with her widowed mother, who -- by the way -- moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey after her husband died so that she could be closer to her daughter.

You don't need to be a genius to know that The Meddler, a comedy from director Lorene Scafaria, drips with denial, specifically about the death of the most important man in both mother and daughter's lives.

Scafaria takes a mostly mellow approach to a difficult emotional issue by turning Marnie into a woman who can't resist becoming involved in other people's lives. Marnie's method of avoidance involves helping anyone and everyone -- with pretty much anything.

Adopting a near parodic New Jersey accent, Susan Sarandon plays Marnie as a human intrusion. Rose Byrne -- in a nice small performance -- portrays Lori, the daughter who says she wants to escape her mother's suffocating attentions.

Marnie means well. When she goes to an Apple store to buy an iPhone, she can't help but come to the aid of a sales person (Jerrod Carmichael) who wants to attend college, but can't get to classes because he doesn't own a car. Marnie happily becomes his chauffeur and advisor.

And when she meets a young mother (Cecily Strong) who feels deprived because she and her gay spouse never had a "real" wedding, Marnie insists on planning and paying for a big celebration.

Marnie's husband, we learn, left her lots of money, and she doesn't seem reluctant to part with some of it -- so long as it keeps her connected to others.

Marnie also volunteers at a hospital, where she engages in conversation with an elderly woman who may be suffering from dementia, and doesn't seem to understand a word Marnie says. Whoever plays this woman fares better than Michael McKean, as a man who Marnie rebuffs in one of the movie's least believable scenes.

Most of the movie takes place when Lori takes off for New York to work on a pilot for an upcoming show. Marnie must fend for herself, which mostly involves making friends with her daughter's friends. She even starts seeing her daughter's therapist (Amy Landecker)

Sarandon gives a committed and sometimes touching comic performance as a woman whose good intentions are inseparable from her desire to involve herself in the lives of others.

Slowly but inevitably, Marnie begins to stake out her own turf. She opens herself to a relationship with a man, a retired cop played by J.K. Simmons, who has grown a mustache for the role. Maybe Sam Elliott, who usually plays these kinds of attractive older men, was otherwise engaged.

Supposedly a semi-autobiographical work by Scafaria, The Meddler offers intermittent and often sunny amusements as it allows Marnie's incessant chatter to march through the movie like an invading army that's immune to all resistance.

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