The Meddler Review


I’ve recently taken to deliberately embarrassing my offspring in public, deploying all manner of frivolous and immature tactics.

I’m not certain I do for my own enjoyment; it’s not as if I need to see discomfort in my children’s faces. I think behaving like this is some kind of bizarre protest at their insistence on growing up.

It’s becoming my only way of maintaining a modicum of control.

In a similar way, Marnie Minervini, the protagonist of Lorene Scafaria’s enjoyable essay on motherhood The Meddler, just wants to be involved in her now adult baby’s life.

Following the death of her husband, Marnie relocates from New York to Hollywood to be near her scriptwriter daughter Lori. In addition to losing a dad, Lori is dealing with further heartbreak, having just been jilted by her fiancée.

Marnie, played by Susan Sarandon, has been left more than comfortable financially and in the film’s opening sequence provides a detailed voicemail description of her swanky new apartment to Lori. In fact much of the first half of the film is spent observing an isolated woman leaving messages to her suffocated daughter. If the director’s intention is to make the audience feel the same way as Lori she succeeds, watching is at times claustrophobic.

The more Marnie interferes or offers unwelcome advice the stronger the rejection of her maternal overtures. Lori, exhausted with grief, her work and having to redefine the boundaries of the relationship with her mother relocates back to New York in an effort to provide some distance.

Bearing an almost pathological requirement to feel necessary, Marnie switches attention to her daughter’s friends, or failing that complete strangers. She buys a pregnant girl she hardly knows an absurdly disproportionate gift at a baby shower to which she wasn’t invited and offers to fund and plan someone else’s dream wedding.

Amidst all of this she finds herself as the object of affection for two men, one from an encounter at the baby shower and the other a police officer whom she meets whilst performing as an unwitting extra in a movie.

Such is its familiarity that The Meddler feels like an old-fashioned movie and that is by no means a bad thing. The story is based on the writer’s own experience and is authentic and from the heart.

So whilst not exactly ground-breaking, the quality of the script and both central performances make the relationship between Marnie and Lori ring true. Despite the constant unwanted interventions and Lori’s palpable frustration, at one point Marnie even meets with Lori’s analyst to garner information, it is clear that Lori still needs her mum and the bond never threatens to really break down. It emerges that Lori’s pilot show script, a feel good sit-com, is heavily influenced by her relationship with her mother.

Marnie’s relationship with Zipper, the police officer, played by JK Simmons is well observed and a scene where she tries to convince him to make contact with his estranged daughter is beautifully played out and is the key to understanding Marnie. It’s far more preferable for your child to use you as an emotional punch-bag than to have no contact at all.

Having said that my fondness for their relationship probably has just as much to do with the fact that I kept imagining JK Simmons to be my new friend every time he was on screen. We’d could sit on a deserted beach and chat, or maybe climb a mountain together and at the top drink whiskey straight from the flask.

Leaving her slightly ropey ‘Joysey’ accent aside, Sarandon, whose big screen absence is no doubt rooted in Hollywood’s reluctance to cast women over the age of 40 in leading roles, is convincing as the overpowering mum and has a strong rapport with Rose Byrne’s Lori.

There is enough humour in the script throughout to lighten the fact that this is a film essentially about two women dealing with grief. All of which makes The Meddler a perfectly good fun and thought provoking film.

So the next time you’re at a party and you see a balding, overweight and charismatic man of a certain age throwing surprisingly good yet perhaps mildly unbecoming shapes in the centre of the dance floor, don’t feel pity for the 10 year old girl cringing in the corner of the room hoping the ground opens up and swallows her.

Think instead of the red-faced, sweating and terrified man who doesn’t want his children to grow up and leave home.

Frank Gardiner

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Dates ‘n stuff

June 2016