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Sarandon captures the slow grace of mourning in 'The Meddler'

Posted May 24

"THE MEDDLER" — 3 stars — Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons; PG-13 (brief drug content); Broadway, Jordan Commons

Marnie is a fascinating character. She’s ditzy, but she has a wealth of knowledge ready to bestow on unsuspecting strangers. She harbors serious emotional issues, but like most of us, she’s much better at diagnosing other people’s problems. She often seems oblivious to the world around her, but she also enjoys great moments of enlightenment.

Played masterfully by Susan Sarandon, Marnie is the centerpiece of “The Meddler,” a subtle, poignant and often funny film about moving on. She is a relatively new widow who, thanks to the money her husband left behind, has relocated to Los Angeles after a lifetime in Brooklyn.

But she isn’t so interested in enjoying the West Coast so much as she is being close to her screenwriter daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). Lori is enjoying the material fruits of Hollywood, but she’s also nursing a broken heart and listening to the slow but increasingly loud tick of her biological clock.

Lori has no time for her mother, even though Marnie has nothing but time for her. And when Marnie does manage to infiltrate Lori’s life, she promptly inserts herself into the lives of her daughter’s friends as well, attending baby showers as Lori’s plus one even though Lori herself doesn’t attend and making elaborate purchases for complete strangers. Marnie’s limitless generosity is matched only by the wave of awkwardness she creates in her wake.

The whole effort is Marnie’s way of avoiding her own issues by rushing headlong into the issues of the people around her. So when fortune crosses her path in the form of a charming ex-cop named Zipper (J.K. Simmons), Marnie is slow to respond. Speaking in a calm drawl under a heavy mustache that evokes Sam Elliott, Zipper is a little backward for the L.A. Fast Lane — he raises his own chickens at his home outside town — but an obvious match for our protagonist.

“The Meddler” isn’t built around a core plot so much as it is an exploration into the lives of its characters. We follow Marnie on her path to cope with life and accept the joys it still offers her. We see Lori wrestle with futility as she tries to find meaning in the middle of her personal chaos. Their encounters give “The Meddler” rhythm, and one intimate moment merges comedy, tragedy and love in a way that highlights the whole film.

Simmons' time onscreen is comparatively brief, but he is strong as usual in his supporting role as Zipper. But again, Sarandon is the real heavy hitter here, lending subtle depth to a character that might easily be dismissed as flighty. At one point midway through the film, she visits Lori on set, and her reaction to what her daughter has written is marvelous and painful to see.

We need no further proof of Sarandon’s range than to realize that she’s played this role before. In Cameron Crowe’s 2005 film “Elizabethtown,” Sarandon played another woman coping with the death of her husband, and the contrast is instructive.

“The Meddler” showcases a slow response to tragedy and shares a tender portrait of growth. It isn’t a perfect film, but its best moments truly shine.

"The Meddler" is rated PG-13 for brief drug content; running time: 100 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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