The Meddler, just in time for Mother's Day, gives Susan Sarandon the chance to go deep into the character of a parent, a widow, who can't stop herself from interfering in everybody else's life.
And it gives audiences the chance to relish that character, Marnie Minervini, a woman with a piercing New Yawk (by way of Jersey) squawk and a desperate need to help strangers, shop workers, and her daughter's friend whose name she can't quite recall - but never mind, that won't stop Marnie from offering to bankroll an elaborate wedding ceremony on a yacht.
The Meddler is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who brings a far more personal and authentic focus to things after her mess with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley banging around in 2012's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
And with Sarandon in the title role, Scafaria has a winner: The actress tackles Marnie headlong, with heart and soul, trolling the fancy outdoor shopping mall for products to buy and for people to intercept and hang on to.
Marnie awakens each morning in a sunlit room, to the whir of a ceiling fan. She grabs her iPhone to check messages, ready to drop by daughter Lori's place even if daughter Lori isn't ready to see her.
Rose Byrne is said offspring, a TV writer with a deadline looming. She's knotted with insecurities - and with heartbreak, too. Her longtime beau, Jacob (Jason Ritter), has left. Marnie wants to console, to counsel. Lori just wants to be left alone.
You don't need a therapist to tell you what's driving Marnie's compulsion to "help," but both she and Lori are seeing one, anyway. (Amy Landecker has the role of the amusingly noncommunicative shrink.) Marnie is still grappling with the death of her husband, Lori's dad, several years gone.
He left his spouse with enough money so she'd never have to worry about such things again, and so she packed up and moved to Los Angeles, to be close to her daughter. Pathologically close.
"I need to get a life of my own, and so do you!" Lori finally tells her mom, feeling at once gutsy and guilty.
In some respects, The Meddler evokes another recent portrait of a Los Angeles woman of a certain age with a suitcase full of needs and neuroses: Lily Tomlin's sourpuss poet in Grandma. Both films offer character studies rich in detail, richly performed.
In The Meddler, Marnie finds herself pursued by a couple of suitors. One is the awkward Mark (Michael McKean), whose idea of a fun date is a trip to the Holocaust Museum.
The other is a retired cop who goes by the handle Zipper and who lives in a cabin in the canyon by the beach, strumming a guitar and singing country songs when no one is around (or so he thinks). J.K. Simmons plays Zipper, in a role typically reserved for Sam Elliot (the walrus mustache, the manly drawl), and the romance - or possibility of one - between the Harley-riding policeman and the gabby East Coaster provides the underlying tension of the film.
As for overlying tension, that's all courtesy of Sarandon's Marnie. She's relentless. She's impossible. She's wonderful.