We all believe that we know what’s best for us. We have our own plans, our own routines, and our own ideas of what we want. In general, we tend not to seek-out help from those around us – least of all from our parents. However, that very mindset goes against a parent’s nature of doing anything they can for their children, and worrying about them.
Because while we might believe we know what’s best for us, they will also believe they know what’s best for us. And while we might disagree, they’re not always as wrong as we think they are.
THE MEDDLER is Marnie (Susan Sarandon), the widowed mother of screenwriter Lori (Rose Byrne).
Marnie has recently moved from New York to California after her husband passed away. She wants to be closer to her daughter and have a close relationship, even if her daughter doesn’t completely want that for herself. Marnie’s days are kept busy with shopping, seeing movies alone, and making plans to volunteer at the hospital (any day now, she swears).
When Lori takes a pass on going to a friend’s baby shower, Marnie decides to claim the invitation for herself. She goes as a ‘plus one’, even though the person who she’s ‘plussed’ to is giving the whole thing a skip. It’s there that she endears herself to Lori’s friend Jillian, and forges a curious relationship.
After becoming carpool buddies with a staffer at her local Apple Store, and stumbling into caregiver/companion duties to a complete stranger at the hospital, Marnie begins to wonder just what has her daughter so out-of-sorts. She even reaches out to Lori’s ex-boyfriend Jacob (Jason Ritter) in her quest for answers.
None are there for the finding, but the very quest itself (and a few other odd choices) finally have Lori crying “boundaries!” and taking an even bigger step back from her fractured relationship with her mother.
From there, Marnie’s attention is slowly turned to a man named Zipper (J.K. Simmons) – an ex-cop turned security guard. The two become fast fiends, with the possibility of something more. The question is whether a woman always pressuring others to couple-up is ready to couple-up herself after losing her husband. Likewise, we can see that in the back of her brain she wonders what a distraction like Zipper would mean to her relationship with Lori.
So what’s a meddler to do?
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria deserves a lot of credit for infusing what could be an outlandish tale with true humanity. Usually, films of this ilk lean on wild misunderstandings, or horrendously inappropriate humour to force conflict between parent and child. Here though, we spend one hundred wonderful minutes mulling over parental interference after thirty, love after fifty, and the simple fact that we all cope with what life has dealt us in our own way.
On the surface, Marnie might seem like a cartoon. She’s missing a certain degree of tact, seems a little too brash, and – as the title suggests – meddles a lot. But if we all take a moment and think, I’d wager that we’ve all met someone like Marnie. She might well be our own mother…our grandmother…our aunt…our next door neighbour…our mother-in-law…or someone else whose orbit we drift in and out of with relative frequency.
We all know someone like Marnie; the person who wants to help, means well, but often comes across a mild bother.
Sarandon gives us a beautiful glimpse into that person who (let’s be honest) we usually duck. She shows us that there is genuine desire to help behind all of that boundary-crossing, and likewise a complicated story to how they became who they are. For signs of this, we watch Marnie interact with Zipper, or her dead husband’s family. In these moments, there’s a fragility not as prominent as there is when she’s offering advice.
Perhaps Marnie doesn’t want to feel fragile (who would?). Or perhaps, she doesn’t want to admit that she does (again, who would?). So, she over-corrects. She lingers a little too long and goes over the top. Sarandon dials back the freakish confidence we have come to associate with her, and embodies a different sort of outgoing nature…one that clearly seems to be hiding something.
The truth of the matter is that most of us define ourselves as one thing. We can call ourselves artists, missionaries, doctors, businesspeople, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, and much more. An unlucky few of us will have to face the facts that one day we are no longer that “one thing”. Jobs end, circumstances change, relationships end. Sometimes gradually, but too often, it happens suddenly.
Then what? How do we deal when something we identified with so closely is gone?
There is no answer of course, and if there were we’d all have it so much easier. That’s the honest beauty of a film like THE MEDDLER. Sure, Marnie seems a bit over the top with what she does to fill the void, but if we’re all honest with ourselves, we can admit that we all have it in us to talk a little longer to the retail staff and grow a little closer to friends-of-friends if the situation presented itself. They are honest coping mechanisms, and sometimes a sign that a void is present. It’s easy for us to step back, shake our head, and judge…but instead we should ask ourselves, “If I was in the same situation, what would I do to cope?”