Critics have bestowed high praise upon veteran actress Susan Sarandon for her performance in The Meddler, which opens area-wide on Friday. Sarandon portrays Marnie, an aging widow who moves to Los Angeles so she can live closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). While Sarandon's performance stands out, the movie suffers from a simplistic script and a predictable conclusion.
The film commences with Marnie speaking in a voiceover about how much she loves SoCal. She regularly visits the Grove, an upscale shopping center, and loves the warm weather and constant sun (though as anyone who's lived in Southern California knows, a thick marine layer often engulfs the coastal cities). On the outside, Marnie seems to have recovered from her husband's sudden death; the fact that she receives a nice check each month from his life insurance policy certainly has a lot to do with her apparent recovery.
Lori, on the other hand, hasn't fared so well. Her father's death represents just one of her many problems. Up against a deadline to finish a script for a TV pilot, she struggles to handle the stress. And she and her boyfriend Jacob (Jason Ritter) recently called it quits. Marnie offers to help, but Lori despises her tendency to pop in, unannounced. And Marnie has a way of asking too many questions and, well, meddling.
When Lori heads to New York to work on the pilot, she doesn't accept Marnie's offer to come along for support, making Marnie wonder what she did to upset her daughter so much.
In Lori's absence, Marnie makes a few new friends. One of those new friends, Jillian (Cecily Strong), is an acquaintance of Lori's. But with Lori out of town, Marnie quickly turns her meddling ways toward Jillian and even offers to help plan and finance her wedding. And Marnie meets Zipper (J.K. Simmons), a retired cop, who takes a liking to her despite her inability to show him any affection without becoming flustered. Simmons is terrific, by the way, as the easy-going Zipper, a guy who raises chickens at his ranch-style house on the city's outskirts.
The sophomore effort from writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World), the movie focuses too much on the mundane (Marnie's often on her iPhone and/or at the Genius Bar to figure out how to use the thing) and telegraphs the ending. From the start, we know chatty Marnie hasn't dealt with her loss, so it's no surprise when, at the film's anticlimactic conclusion, she has to finally tie up the loose ends and do something with the guy's ashes and then confront the fact that she might have feelings for Zipper.