It’s been a really solid couple of years for older actresses getting interesting leading roles in surprisingly nuanced and well-written films. I gave four stars to both Sally Field’s Hello My Name is Doris and Blythe Danner’s I’ll See You In My Dreams, both really wonderful movies. I was significantly more mixed on Lily Tomlin’s Grandma, but it had the (figurative) balls to be about both the hot button issue of abortion and genuinely unlikable, deeply damaged characters. The parts of Grandma that worked were so brilliant that they only made the awful bits feel even worse, but then this isn’t a review of Grandma. It’s a review of The Meddler, featuring a vivacious “no way she’s almost seventy” turn by Susan Sarandon as a recently widowed woman who can’t seem to help driving her adult daughter, a very good Rose Byrne, to distraction. But this movie has none of the genius of Doris or Dreams; nor does it even have the bracing edginess of a failure like Grandma. I really can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly anodyne and dull this movie is. The writing and the direction are both unutterably dreary. It’s in vogue to compare movies like this to Lifetime Channel movies, but at least Lifetime Channel movies have some energy. Sarandon and Byrne are both giving good performances, but the script just gives them less than nothing to work with. Lucy Punch has a funny, really short cameo. J.K. Simmons is a pro, but his part is decidedly underwritten even by the standards of this movie. Cecily Strong is vivacious and fun and, by almost sheer force of will, brings some energy to the movie, but she’s barely in it. Jason Ritter is painfully bad and horribly miscast as an action-movie star, in particular. And one of the major plot threads is that Rose Byrne’s character is pining away in self-torment because she’s madly in love with Ritter’s character. Yeah. Rose Byrne is sad because Jason Ritter is way out of her league. Yeah, that’s about right. The movie is barely over an hour and a half, but the last half just drags a lot. There are moments here and there that land. There’s one scene I’d even go so far as to call genuinely great where Sarandon visits the set of a pilot that Byrne wrote, one obviously based on her own life, and Sarandon is struck, in a really touching, not at all comedic way, by seeing her own family reflected in the scene being filmed. It’s a beautiful moment and Sarandon is totally wordless in the bit, but it’s a real knockout and probably her best acting in . . . God, a decade? More? But that’s just one scene. This is far from the late career vehicle that Sarandon, always a charismatic and compelling talent, deserved. Hell, it’s not even the comedy vehicle that Byrne, actually quite a gifted and underrated comedic talent, deserves. A real disappointment. 1 ½ stars.
tl;dr – rote mother-daughter dramedy wastes Sarandon & Byrne in a dry, clichéd script that even their combined talents can’t elevate; rarely offensive, just consistently blandly dull. 1 ½ stars.