Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Meddler (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Meddler

If there ever was a film that goes down easily with good production, spirit and verve, it is "The Meddler," the new film by Lorene Scafaria. Some might well say it is transparently feel-good. So be it. The story fits this genre in the best way possible.

Susan Sarandon is Marnie, a widowed mother who compulsively keeps tabs on her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) by way of calling and calling, message after message. Lori, though irritated, handles this primarily through nonchalance and deflection. Lori is never mean. After all, she just moved to L.A. and doesn't need the drama. Besides Mom means well.

Although Marnie is intense with her daughter, others love her and enjoy her company. Lori's friend Jillian (Cecily Strong) takes a liking to her, as does Emily (Lucy Punch). Marnie has a vivacious spirit and an interest combined with a hint of naïveté that makes her good company.  Lori is vexed by Marnie's popularity, yet tries to go with the situation, rather than resist.

There have been many films about domineering moms and the struggle for sanity: "Mother," "Guilt Trip," and  "Grandma" to name a few. What makes this film different is its attitude. Marnie is no mother on steriods, single-minded in an almost supernatural intensity. To the contrary, Marnie is lonely and human. Though worried, she has a child's curiousity for life. Marnie is content to experience events and simply drift.

The film is more akin to the mumblecore cinema of Noah Baumbach then any Albert Brooks, Carl Reiner or Woody Allen comedy. Fortunately this is a character study film and does not play for easy screwball bits or farcical hoots. These are real people that grow and transform, not mere cartoons drawn from The New Yorker.

All to the better.

J.K. Simmons gives a refreshing and understated performance as Marnie's new interest, albeit similar to Sam Elliott's role in "I'll See You in My Dreams." Last but not least comedian Jerrod Carmichael, as another of Marnie's friends, does well with energy and charm.

Wonderfully, the light comforts arise from human interaction rather than glib punch lines. All of these characters have a friendship with Marnie, driven by heart, not hijinks. Perhaps the best quality of The Meddler" is that the mom is not a meddler at all, but a mother open to everyone and very real. Moreover, you will feel that you know these people and laugh along the way, which is no small thing.

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