Tuesday, May 17

REVIEW: The Meddler

Directed by Lorene Scafaria
2016 Comedy-Drama
1 hour, 40 minutes
From Sony Pictures Classics

Susan Sarandon
Rose Byrne
J. K. Simmons
Michael McKean
Cecily Strong
Jerrod Carmichael
Jason Ritter

Seeing this film is in keeping with my blog life these past few months because in writing about the 1940s, I am writing about a number of women's pictures because they were so popular then. This is a woman's picture.  I do not want to denigrate it by calling it a chickflick because, frankly, most of those are limp, formulaic and uninteresting to me, a boy person. However, when one like this comes along with a strongly written female role, I am front and center.  I guess my inner chick does love films about feelings and in general good stuff about simply trying to get through life.

It's funny.  When my partner and I saw the previews, I liked what I saw and determined it was a must-see for me.  He decided it looked like a typical chickflick with mindless relationship stereotypes and he wanted no part of it... so I saw it alone.  I came home and didn't say I told you so (because part of me wondered whether he was correct in his assumption).  But I did tell him he missed a good one.

And I am telling you the same... it's a good one. Most adult women will like it.  Most adult women who are able to take their mothers along should certainly do so. Hey, if you have a man who would entertain seeing a thoughtful film about a woman, then take him along. If he needs a car crash to make his testosterone bubble, tell him there is one. No kidding.

Before we get to the story itself, one more thing. It's about that title.  I think it's an unfortunate choice.  I think it kind of cheapens what the film is really about.  It panders to the masses and offers the promise of bitchiness and puts the focus on something that is limiting and a bit misleading. Does she meddle?  Well, yes, but she is also a good friend but was it called The Good Friend?  She's also a loving mother.  Is it called The Loving Mother? Shall I go on?  Well, I will end this with my suggestions.

I confess that, other than suspecting this would be a superb role for Susan Sarandon and desirous of seeing her spin her talented web again, I wanted to see something about a meddlesome mother because I had one. I don't recall finding anything funny about that experience. I thought it might be fun to see a film about just that, even though I am usually such a Doubting Thomas about the skill with which comedies are pulled off.  Imagine my surprise to see something that was so much more than I expected.

Perhaps it's so for a lot of meddlesome mothers (although I tend to say not my mama) that the real issue is a need to be needed.  That is certainly true for our lead character.  She is a recent widow who goes about her life getting some water for that thirsty need.  Widowhood left her financially secure and she wants to use her fortune to help others.  She aids a young man who works at her cellphone carrier, brings joy to a stranger in a hospital who cannot speak and pays for her daughter's friend's wedding to renew her vows because she wants to see her have what she wants.

I see that the film is just as much about the grieving process as it is about being meddlesome.  And the reality that we all grieve differently is pointed out here since mother and daughter come from different positions.  The daughter is genuinely grieving while she thinks her mother is not grieving enough. That is actually the source of their issues but largely unaddressed, particularly by the mother.

It's also about the mother's intimacy issues and done most effectively by putting her in the path of two men who are quite taken with her.  She meets, of all people, an ex-cop/current Harleyman, and we root for something to blossom.

Even though I would consider this more thoughtful drama than comedy, there is probably enough giggles to keep one feeling light. Sarandon has a scene eating an egg that comes from Mr. Harleyman's chickens that is great fun.

Sarandon, nothing short of brilliant, has one of the most expressive faces and it is put to such good comedic use in a scene involving a (typically mute) shrink. Another scene with the shrink gets down to business in uncovering those layers we like to pile on to shield ourselves from connecting to truths. Boy, there are a number of actresses who could have brought this role to life.  I can see Keaton, Streep, Lange, Field or Spacek and while I love every one of them, I am delighted it went to Sarandon. It's been a while since she's had a role this good.  Some might say there aren't too many roles for women of a certain age that are written these days. What a lucky day it was then that this role and this actress came together. I hope when Oscar talk comes around this performance is remembered and considered.

Rose Byrne is a delightful actress and while she is letter-perfect, her character really doesn't have much of a chance to shine being a secondary role to Sarandon's.  The daughter, perhaps surprisingly, isn't even in the middle section.

Who could forget J. K. Simmons' Oscar-winning role as the abusive music professor in Whiplash (2104)?  Well, here he shows what enormous versatility he has by nailing what has to be one of the great prospective boyfriend parts.

I have never heard of director Lorene Scafaria but as I have said recently about some others, I will now pay more attention. Not that every single thing worked here, but it nearly did and that's good enough for me for someone so new at the task.  More so, she is also the writer and on this level I say brava, brava, brava.  She delivered such a fully-fleshed character... I'm sure she knew the mother character well. I understood her and the film provided the tools for me to be able to do that.  

Still there's that title... an unneeded and silly distraction to an otherwise lovely film.  I've always gotten off on retitling films and I like Notice Me for this one.  I think it has a certain panache and a truth.  Or perhaps the lead character's name should have been Susan and then we title it that. There is an obvious and fun implication and while the use of characters' first names as film titles doesn't always draw crowds, it would have worked so well here.

Next posting:
Out of the west into film noir


  1. Perfect review! I just saw it yesterday and agree completely. Sarandon and Simmons were wonderful, but the trailer for the film, and its title, and its marketing, led audiences to believe it would be a silly comedy, when of course it was a very touching and subtle human drama.
    I liked it too!

  2. thank you. I wasn't interested in seeing it until I read this review.

  3. Ah my favorite kind of comments on reviews of current films. Thanks, Sharon, for writing.

  4. saw this last week with our favorite blogger & quite agree with the review. Glad JK Simmons is getting more work...he's a fav...Anyway...