Film Review: “The Meddler” is middling

Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne star in a mother-daughter dramedy, with J.K. Simmons along as the grizzled, sensitive love interest.

It’s a common and well-justified refrain: there aren’t any good roles for women over 40 in Hollywood. Very few actresses are able to maintain consistent careers, no matter how much popularity or talent they’ve demonstrated in the past. One who has kept busy is the great Susan Sarandon, but her most notable roles of the last few years have been as the mother of Dakota Fanning (in “The Last Days of Robin Hood”) and the grandmother of Melissa McCarthy (in “Tammy”).

So the prospect of Sarandon tackling a lead role, as she does in “The Meddler,” is cause for optimism. It’s the first time she’s played a title character in a big-screen release since she was one of “The Banger Sisters” in 2002.

Susan Sarandon as Marni Minervini in THE MEDDLER. Photographer: Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Susan Sarandon as Marni Minervini in THE MEDDLER.
Photographer: Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

It’s also worth appreciating that this is writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s second feature film. Her first was the enjoyable apocalyptic romantic comedy “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” which didn’t exactly set the box office on fire four years ago. Most of the time, it’s one strike and you’re out for female filmmakers in Hollywood, so the fact that “The Meddler” even got made is encouraging. It would be even more encouraging if the movie were a more distinctive, sharper effort.

Sarandon is, as mentioned, the busybody of the title, a widow named Marnie Minervini. Nearly two years after her beloved husband’s death, Marnie has moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to live near her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne), a TV writer. Fans of Byrne are in luck: movies with her are opening three weeks in a row, with “Neighbors 2” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” following this. Sarandon’s Joisey accent is cartoonish, and her insistence on interfering in her daughter’s life is, appropriately perhaps, sitcom-ready.

When Lori goes to New York to film a pilot, Marnie has to find other people to “help.” She’s got plenty of money, so funding an extravagant lesbian wedding or buying iPads for random acquaintances is perfectly possible.

“The Meddler” calls to mind last year’s similar but superior film “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” in which Blythe Danner played a widow who finds new romance with Sam Elliott. Here, Sarandon meets a retired motorcycle cop named Zipper, with J.K. Simmons doing the grizzled but sensitive thing. Both films also feature ostensibly funny scenes involving marijuana consumption, which is still apparently a giggle-inducing taboo when women of a certain age are involved.

As a mother-daughter date film, “The Meddler” is perfectly acceptable, although why it’s being released in Portland the weekend after Mother’s Day is a question for the marketing gurus. There’s nothing excessively mawkish or stupid about it, and the three leads are smartly, if predictably, cast. Audiences looking for a summer movie option somewhere between superhero fisticuffs and art house pretensions should keep in mind. Oh, and call your mom.

(100 minutes, rated PG-13, opens Friday, May 13, at Regal Fox Tower) GRADE: B




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