Call your mom! That's the sentiment Lorene Scafaria's new movie, The Meddler, featuring Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne as mother and daughter, will leave you with, even if you actively resist it. Let's get this out of the way: In spite of her well-meaning but unhelpful political statements, I love Susan Sarandon, but I wasn't sold on her as Marnie, an overbearing widow who moves to Los Angeles seemingly just to interfere with her daughter's life. While I would never question Sarandon's ability to convey emotional intelligence, when she opened her mouth in the film's first scenes, using a thick New York accent, I was like SUSAN SARANDON NO I DON'T BELIEVE YOU. It wasn't convincing—she just seemed like a very beautiful movie star trying to sound common, an affect that will only ever be jarring.
By the end of the movie, though, I had forgiven her, because I was too busy being a weepy mess (and wanting to call my mom) to preserve my negative attitude.
We have Byrne to thank for this: As Marnie's long-suffering, workaholic daughter, Byrne—who routinely plays perfect, intimidating ciphers—is genuinely relatable as Lori. She refers to her dogs as Marnie's "grand-dogs," a little piece of verisimilitude I have never seen in a movie until now, even though I live my life among plenty of self-proclaimed pet-parents, whose social media posts of themselves with their animals were a real highlight of Mother's Day. And while her age is never explicitly stated, it's clear Lori's crossed that threshold in time where you no longer just automatically assume you'd have an abortion if you got pregnant. This is an age that typically doesn't exist in Hollywood, even though it's inherently complex and potentially loaded, and thus perfectly suited to narrative.
And that's the thing about The Meddler's heroines: They aren't flat, tertiary characters in someone else's storyline. They're weird, interesting, highly competent messes handling their own not-inconsiderable emotional baggage, and doing a realistically piss-poor job of it. They're dysfunctional and unlikeable, and you can tell a man didn't write them. Like UnREAL's Rachel or literally any of the women on The Good Wife (RIP), they're complicated and make bad decisions and probably aren't that cool to be around. But what makes them hard to watch is also what makes them real.
The Meddler grows on you like that. It is the cinematic equivalent of an intrusive relative who asks you rude questions that don't make any sense until you realize that a desperate urge to connect underlies those inquiries. What once might've seemed annoying is now tragically reflective of the human condition. It doesn't fix things; it just makes them legible.
Similarly, Sarandon's accent doesn't improve, but she's a pro and acts around it. J.K. Simmons is a delightful old man I am always happy to see, and as a retired cop who entertains his pet chickens with Dolly Parton tunes, he's almost too perfect. As Lori's therapist, who then becomes Marnie's therapist (that's how meddling works!), Transparent's Amy Landecker made me want to sign up for analysis, and who cares if she doesn't take my insurance! It's also notable that for as effective—and unexpectedly moving—as The Meddler is, it's only Scafaria's second film as a director, following 2012's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Here's looking forward to her third.