Mother’s Day may have come and gone, but that’s no reason not to treat your mum to an irresistibly funny, charming and sentimental good time at the flicks!
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It’s been a year since her husband’s death, and Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is feeling lonely. With little to do to fill her days now, Marnie focuses all her attention on her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), who’s dealing with a nasty breakup of her own. Finding her frequent texts, calls and attempts to make her ex see the light a huge interference in her life, Lori warns her mother to back off and give her some space, and informs her that she will be travelling to Los Angeles for work. Naturally, Marnie follows her, but with her daughter busy and out of contact, she finds her meddling abilities put to better use on people more in need of assistance – including a retired cop (J.K. Simmons), who takes a romantic interest in Marnie.
Lorene Scafaria emerged as the writer of the sweet, fluffy Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and made her directing debut with the rather bleak doomsday comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It showed Scafaria definitely had promise helming a film, but suffered from severely jarring shifts in tone and an extreme downer ending. Her sophomore effort deals with an apocalypse of a different kind – the personal catastrophe of losing your life partner – and thankfully, it’s a much more balanced and confident affair.
Structurally, the narrative plays it very loosely, avoiding the trappings of a mapped out plot, and instead giving us the freedom to explore its characters, in much the same way as Marnie explores Los Angeles, stumbling from one odd (but usually friendly) person to the next. The tonal shifts of Seeking a Friend are still there; Scafaria’s aim is to clearly make us feel as much as we laugh with her movies – but they flow into each other with much greater ease this time around.
That the film works so well is entirely down to the strength of its characters; each is fully fleshed out and truly affectionate and sympathetic. It’s anchored by Susan Sarandon’s all too realistic performance as the overbearing matriarch; she’s annoying, but she always has the best intentions at heart, and it’s a joy to take the unexpected journey with such an earnest and likable figure. It’s easily Sarandon’s best in a decade – probably two.
The ever reliable and versatile Rose Byrne welcomely shows more of her comedy chops, though her role is an explosion of emotional shifts. There’s a lot of tears and outbursts, and Byrne handles it all very well, while still finding the time to make us laugh in between. Then there’s the always enjoyable presence of J.K. Simmons, toning down his usual loud shtick for a more nuanced, quirky love interest as biker cop Zipper, whose innocent charms match Marnie’s unconditional selflessness.
The laid-back narrative can cause the film to meander at times, particularly in its home stretch. Thankfully, it all leads to a very strong ending that ties up most of the loose story strands neatly – a couple with particularly powerful emotional moments that might catch you off guard. You’ll wish you brought along some tissues! Overall, it’s a very enjoyable, hilarious ode to mothers, and will remind you to give her a call once in a while, even if it is to invite her to see The Meddler with you.
The Meddler is available in Australian cinemas from May 19
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures