When I saw The Meddler on its theatrical release four years ago, I feared it would be a one-joke movie. The “joke” is that a widow (Susan Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to California to be near her daughter (Rose Byrne) and just won’t leave her alone. Cell phone calls, texts, and unannounced visits to her house—even barging in while her daughter is taking a shower—are an everyday occurrence.

Fortunately, writer-director Lorene Scafaria (who scored with last year’s Hustlers) based this screenplay on her own real-life situation and refuses to reduce its subtleties and complications to the level of a routine sitcom episode. She also has the benefit of a highly skilled actress in the leading role and Sarandon makes the most of it, Jersey accent and all.

The Meddler presents a three-dimensional character who is often portrayed in terms of cliché. Sarandon is independent enough to visit her local Apple store, where she learns to use new devices and befriends the young man who coaches her… yet she still feels the pain of her husband’s death and can’t deal with her close-knit family back in New Jersey. She is lonely and needy but not a victim. Unfortunately, her solution to almost all her problems is to cling to her daughter, who has run out of patience. Then, to her surprise, Sarandon chances to meet a man (the always-welcome J.K. Simmons) who opens the door to a possible relationship. (You can also never go wrong casting Michael McKean, Jerrod Carmichael, Lucy Punch and Jason Ritter.)

Weaving comedy and drama together, Scafaria gives us an empathetic look at two women struggling to get by. Byrne has her own issues to deal with, but despite her complaints she does love her mother. That’s what I like about The Meddler: it’s firmly rooted in reality, but thanks to good writing and superior performances, it’s thoroughly entertaining. The supporting cast is first-rate, and it’s great to see Susan Sarandon in a leading role that makes such good use of her talent.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024