In The Meddler, Susan Sarandon is a perfect blend of annoying and adorable as a well-meaning mother who just can’t stop interfering. As Marnie, she is talkative, relentless optimistic and buzzing with endless energy, all attributes appreciated by strangers and acquaintances more than her single, ex-obsessed TV writer daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). Because Lori pushes her mom out of her affairs, Marnie, who moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to Lori after she lost her husband two years ago, is forced to become more involved elsewhere, even attending the baby shower for one of Lori’s friends where she learns that Jillian (Cecily Strong) is in desperate need of a babysitter. Marnie, of course, offers up her services.
Jillian mentions her partner, Dani, early in conversation with Marnie, and the androgynous name is chosen for good reason. They are talking about Jillian’s lack of a “real wedding” because they opted for a courthouse affair, Marnie inquires further, referring to Dani as “he.” In a quick correction (“Oh, she.”), Jillian continues with her story, and the surprise can only be registered on Marnie’s confused face for a brief moment before she offers to pay for the wedding. Jillian refuses at first, pointing out all the reasons it might not be a good idea, but Marnie loves to see people’s faces light up when they not only accept her help but appreciate it.
This manifests in other ways—from Marnie’s offering an Apple Genius bar worker rides to night school classes to her friendship with an elderly woman at the hospital—but the biggest spectacle is surely the big lesbian wedding on a boat. Despite the fact Marnie refers to Jillian as “What’s her name?” when she’s leaving long messages on her daughter’s voicemail, she buys Jillian her dream dress and is lovingly thanked and celebrated during the reception for being a surrogate mother to Jillian, who lost her mom when she was young.
Rebecca Drysdale appears very briefly as Dani, the former Navy officer who dons her uniform for the nautical affair. She doesn’t really have any lines, minus what feel like ad-libs, and strangely, she’s not involved in the wedding planning at all. While Cecily Strong is great in a more serious role than we used to seeing her in on SNL, it was an interesting choice for writer/director Lorene Scafaria to have the feminine half of the couple be the only one invested in their big day.
The Meddler is a fantastic film with an all-star cast, largely made up of women we already know and love (including Casey Wilson, Amy Landecker and Sarah Baker), but its true genius is its character development for Marnie. Susan Sarandon plays the open-hearted, newly single and lonely woman so perfectly, and despite the rich subject matter and character study, getting to see a film centered on a 50+ woman still feels all-too-rare.
Interestingly, it is in films and television shows like The Meddler, Grandma, Grace and Frankie, and Hello, My Name is Doris that LGBT themes and characters are also explored in a different way than in more millennial or 20-30-something-focused media. It is here they are treated more normal, but at the same time, given some specific reflection on what makes them special or different. Jillian’s friends (who I can only assume are straight-identified, but there were few specifications) support her big day with the same vigor they would any other; so much so that she has 13 bridesmaids. The humor surrounding the ceremony is never that Jillian is gay; it’s that Marnie is generously but overly involved in the wedding of someone she hardly knows; someone who Lori isn’t even that concerned with, and she’s supposedly her friend.
The Meddler gives a meddling mother more to do than she’s usually relegated to, and that’s where the truth and comedy lie.
The Meddler is now open in select theaters.