In a performance that easily ranks among her best, Susan Sarandon portrays Marnie, a widowed mother, and the titular busybody of Lorene Scafaria's "The Meddler." Roughly a year after her husband's death, Marnie relocates from New Jersey to Los Angeles in order to be closer to her grown daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne).
Depressed after a breakup and busy with her writing career, Lori is feeling particularly ill-equipped to handle her mother's overbearing, if well-meaning, nature -- expressed most frequently in the form of incessant calls and unexpected drop-in visits. But the contentious, though ultimately loving, relationship between mother and daughter is surprisingly less of a focus than the movie's marketing might suggest.
Writer-director Scafaria ("Seeking a Friend for the End of the World") avoids broad, easy "Mothers, ack!" comedy in favor of building a sympathetic and observant character study, as Marnie learns to finally process her grief over the biggest loss of her life. Marnie's a woman who can't help herself from helping, but with plenty of time on her hands, enough money to live more than comfortably, and a daughter that can't stop pushing her away, she's forced to find a new outlet.
Eventually those outlets expand to include assisting Lori's lesbian friend, Jillian (Cecily Strong) plan and pay for her wedding; encouraging Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), a particularly patient Apple Genius Bar technician, to go to night school (including giving him rides to class); and ever-so-tentatively entering into a sweet romance with a retired police officer, played by J.K. Simmons in his patented teddy bear mode (Simmons is second only to John Goodman in his seemingly effortless ability to shift from frightening to cuddly as each new role requires).
As a woman whose unyielding helpfulness covers up a wealth of survivor's guilt, Sarandon is lovely. Warm, funny, moving, Scafaria's crafts "The Meddler" into a sweeter and more heartfelt tribute to motherhood than Garry Marshall's hollow "Mother's Day" could ever hope to be. Take your mom, but considering the film's blatantly pro-meddling message, be warned that you may find yourself dealing with a lot more unexpected visits.