Writer-director Lorene Scafaria follows her Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) with this wayward though really rather appealing and attractive old-style vehicle for movie icon Susan Sarandon as an ageing New York City widow whose husband dies, leaving her comfortably off and with an empty canvas.
She is called Marnie, a Hitchcock reference, presumably, but how? With nothing she really needs to do, and nobody she wants to do it with, Marnie meddles gently and nicely in other people's lives – a young black guy, a lesbian couple – she just wants to be friends and help them, cash wise. Though the title promises a story about a meddler, which you imagine would be a bad thing, with bad consequences, that isn't going to be this story at all. In fact, there's no reason, other than a reasonably catchy title to call it The Meddler at all.
It's actually two stories, and the first and better involves Rose Byrne as Marnie's daughter Lori, who loves her mother but wants a separate life of her own, away from the meddler. But Marnie's not interested in that and follows her daughter to Los Angeles in hopes of starting a new life there. Byrne is not obvious casting as Sarandon's daughter, but she gets away with it on sheer talent, skill and appeal, and she and Sarandon do work up a good double act together. They both have charisma, separately and together. The movie is at its best focusing on these two, and it should have kept close up and personal on just them.
A little bit of Bergman-style angst, well some kind of feeling of impending gloom and doom, would be nice. But Lorene Scafaria keeps relentlessly upbeat and cheery, and keeps Marnie the same. No problem seems a problem. Marnie's more a fixer than a meddler, it seems. The film could have been called The Fixer. Of course, optimism is a good thing, and boy do we need to re-find our optimism now, and that's the movie's whole idea. Or it could have been called The Optimist.
The film drifts from mild personality clashes to warm observation to kind of cliche sitcom moments (like when Marnie wanders onto an outdoors movie set and gets cast as an extra) and on to a highly improbably romantic story. This involves Marnie with an equally ageing traffic cop, who she rejects sweetly until he bails her out of trouble.
It also involves Sarandon dangerously with another screen-hogger, JK Simmons. The danger is averted. Simmons bows graciously to his humble status of playing a belated arrival character loyally supporting the star. Simmons is naturally good, but too good for this. Give him his own movie! Maybe Sarandon could return the favour by guest starring in his movie.