If you didn’t get the chance to see Lorene Scafaria‘s The Meddler in theaters, now’s your shot. Now out on DVD, Blu-Ray and on demand, the dark comedy is the story of a mother (Susan Sarandon) and daughter (Rose Byrne) who are grieving the loss of their husband and father, respectively. Loosely based on writer-director Lorene’s mother Gail, Marnie (Sarandon) doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she inserts herself into the lives of everyone she knows, which is mostly that of her single daughter, Lori, and all of Lori’s friends.
In The Meddler, one of Lori’s friends, Jillian (Cecily Strong), bemoans that she’s never had a real wedding because she can’t afford it and doesn’t have any familial support. Marnie immediately offers to pay for the ceremony, and realizes after the fact that Jillian’s partner, Dani, is a woman (Rebecca Drysdale).
Lorene told us that while the scenario is based in truth, the wedding didn’t really happen.
“[Jillian is] a kind of a combination of a couple of different people in our lives but she was originally based on producer Joy Gorman, who my mother did offer to throw a wedding,” Lorene said. “Joy has yet to take her up.”
“I guess I do like characters where they can be any kind of different person and treat them as they are,” Lorene added. “And I do sort of love the idea that if anything it gets the character, Marnie, even more excited to show how progressive she can be.”
The Meddler is progressive in how it treats the same-sex relationship, as Marnie is only briefly surprised by Jillian’s use of the pronoun “she” to describe her love because she had falsely assumed it was a “he.” Jillian and her friends talk about the relationship like any other; it’s normal and commonplace, without any kind of kid gloves handling the topic. Jillian is not the “lesbian friend.” This is sadly still a triumph in the world of mainstream movies where lesbian characters are non-existent or the butts of stereotypical jokes.
“I think Cecily played it that way; very human,” Lorene said. “I just think she’s an incredible actress. She’s one of those cast members of SNL who you just see standout. She’s certainly—I don’t know if she’s in every single sketch I feel like on the show but she just always struck me as an incredible actress, so I got excited.”
Lorene said she loves putting “comedic people in less comedic roles” and credits Cecily for being not only a hilarious improviser but “a dramatic actress, a comedic actress, a character actress” and “also a beautiful leading lady.”
“I think she just kind of has it all and I was really lucky that her schedule worked out and that Lorne Michaels was kind enough to let her come and do that with us. She was doing the White House Correspondents Dinner in the middle of filming, so I was so grateful to her that she was willing to balance this little movie with such an intense undertaking,” Lorene said. “She was just so cool. I guess it comes from years of SNL because there she was on set one day, then she went off and spoke to all those people, absolutely crushed it, and came back.”
Although the character of Lori is based on herself, Lorene claims Rose Byrne’s on-screen depiction is “a little more salty than I am in real life.” So when Lori is terrible to Marnie and acting out of mishandled grief, she understands when some moviegoers find her to be too harsh on her mother.
“We were grieving very differently, and I wanted to tell her story, and I wanted to tell it from the mother’s perspective, from Marnie’s perspective, and so I thought, ‘God, what do I look like from my mother’s perspective?'” Lorene said. “I think it was about being your worst self around the person that loves you the most. I just think that’s a really easy thing to do, to take people for granted and take advantage of a situation and think ‘She has to love me, right?'”
And she does. Marnie may be annoying, but she is selfless and forgiving, and is consistently there for her daughter, even when Lori says she doesn’t want or need her around.
“I think it’s part of the relationship between mothers and daughters all the time is that we’re best friends, so in being best friends and yet, of course, mother-daughter being slightly more loaded, it just gets complicated,” Lorene said. “The two of us both loved my dad, and losing him we both dealt with that We had completely different relationships with him, obviously, and we both dealt with that in different ways. And sometimes it’s just hard to go from three to two and try to figure out what your new relationship is now that this other person’s gone.”
Sadly, it’s more difficult than ever to get feature films about women funded, especially if they’re over 30, and that was the case for The Meddler as well.
“It was very hard to get made,” Lorene said. “I’m happy that sort of after the fact it seemed like there were all these films out there that starred women of a certain age, and so it seemed to be like a trend once we were done. But for the years before that, it certainly didn’t seem like a trend that people were catching onto, so it was really hard to get made. Susan came on board and changed everything.”
The star power along with the relatability of the core story—especially for those who may have meddling mothers of their own—has attracted a wide audience to a film that would be mistakenly billed as a “mom-com.”
“I get excited when people get it,” Lorene said. “When someone really understands it that means more to me, even if they think it’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen. But when someone really gets it and knows all the layers of what it’s about, and not exactly just a mom com, although I like that—I do love that as an expression. “
Lorene Scafaria(Photo by MPI02/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
While the premise might sound sorrowful, there is a ton of lightness to the film, too, and a lot of it has to do with Marnie reconfiguring her new life without her husband, finding herself again as not a mother or a wife, but Marnie.
“I was glad it was as light-hearted as it was because to us there was a lot of sadness underneath,” Lorene said. “I’m really glad it was ultimately a comedy about sad things. We have to get by and really cope, which is also why the film itself—I wanted to really tell it from [Marnie’s] perspective, and it’s about people seeing it going through something like this or having been through something like this and find a little empathy with each other. It’s definitely an exercise in empathy.”
The Meddler is now available digitally and on DVD/Blu-Ray.