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The Meddler DVD Review

The Meddler (2016) movie poster The Meddler

Theatrical Release: May 4, 2016 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Susan Sarandon (Marnie Minervini), Rose Byrne (Lori Minervini), J.K. Simmons (Randall "Randy" Zipper), Jerrod Carmichael (Freddy, Fredo), Cecily Strong (Jillian), Lucy Punch (Emily), Michael McKean (Mark), Jason Ritter (Jacob Mailer), Sarah Baker (Elaine), Casey Wilson (Trish), Amy Landecker (Diane), Billy Magnussen (Ben), Megalyn Echikunwoke (Elise), Jo Jordan (Old Woman), Chance Bone (Movie Set AD), Lou Volpe (Dom), Tony Amendola (Tony), Robert Picardo (Cos), Irina Maleeva (Angie), Shiri Appleby (TV Daughter), Harry Hamlin (TV Dad), Laura San Giacamo (TV Mom), Tehya Santos (Tehya), Rebecca Drysdale (Dani), Randall Park (Officer Lee), Bill Fagerbakke (Officer Davis), Marques Ray (Officer Bernie), Blues Traveler (Themselves)

Buy The Meddler from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Lorene Scafaria made her writing debut with the agreeable 2008 teen romantic comedy Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, adapted from Rachel Cohn and David Levithan's novel. Her follow-up effort came in 2012's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which marked both her directing debut and her first produced original screenplay. Starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley,
the apocalyptic romantic comedy drew mixed reviews and underperformed in a mid-sized summer release. Scafaria's third theatrical film in a creative role is The Meddler, another indie, though this one more likely to be deemed a success based on its favorable critical marks and decent reception in 464 theaters.

The Meddler stars five-time Academy Award nominee, one-time winner Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini, an Italian-American woman from Brooklyn who has moved out to Los Angeles a year after being widowed. Marnie's dearly beloved husband, a more recent Italian immigrant, left her financially set for life. She has moved into a lush condo in The Grove (which she repeatedly likens to living on Main Street in Disneyland), and that puts her close to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), an unmarried thirtysomething television writer whose mother is now a huge part of her life. There are frequent calls and voice mails, sometimes followed up by house visits with a bag of half a dozen salt bagels and almost instantaneous prodding into her love life.

Lorene Scafarias "The Meddler" stars Susan Sarandon as recent widower Marnie Minervini.

With Lori set to visit New York for the filming of the autobiographical pilot she penned, she encourages Marnie to find a life of her own. The spunky widow tries to do that, giving some of her abundant time and resources to those who could use it. Marnie offers $13,000 as a tax-deductible gift to give her daughter's acquaintance (Cecily Strong) and her wife their dream wedding. She starts giving rides to a helpful young Apple store Genius Bar employee (Jerrod Carmichael) who she's encouraged to enroll in night school. She even sits and talks with a mute old woman (Jo Jordan) she stumbles upon while volunteering at the hospital.

Along the way, while continuing to put off headstone and ash scattering plans for her husband, Lori also meets two men: Mark (Michael McKean), who like her hails from the Sunset Park neighborhood, and Randy Zipper (J.K. Simmons), a divorced retired cop turned movie set security guard who plays Dolly Parton for his chickens.

The Meddler probably doesn't sound all that special on paper. Fortunately, you don't watch it on paper. You watch it on a screen and there it proves to be a surprisingly enjoyable feel-good comedy that coasts on Sarandon giving one of the year's best performances to date. Turning 70 in a few weeks, Sarandon has aged out of the lead roles she commanded until around the turn of the millennium. Enjoying such stardom into her mid-fifties already gave her career more longevity than most actresses, who are typically pushed into supporting roles (namely, mom to the twenty or thirty-something leading man or lady) right after turning 40. But Sarandon has much more to give and she demonstrates that here, getting to sink her teeth into a rich and complex protagonist.

Marnie (Susan Sarandon) consoles her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) after she comes to grips with a pregnancy test mix-up.

In other hands, Marnie Minervini might have been a one-note character. But Sarandon gives depth to this intrusive mother who talks about everything like she's an expert and has troubling respecting her daughter's boundaries, all the while hiding the grief of losing her soulmate by doing generous deeds for others with the funds he gave her. Scafaria's last name and birthplace (New Jersey) lead you to believe she's drawing on personal experiences here and naturally she is, but at just 38, she is clearly Rose Byrne's character (as the name makes obvious),
which makes it all the more impressive she can so confidently and convincingly write a woman a generation older than her. That's one obvious perk to having a mother who's all up in your business.

The Meddler avoids some of the trappings that other indie comedies make, like being edgy or dark just because they can. The rare indie assigned a PG-13 rating, The Meddler has broad appeal. The biggest reason it couldn't get a wide release is because its lead role is filled by a 69-year-old woman. The prevailing wisdom in Hollywood states that's a niche movie and there isn't enough data to dispute it. Although it should be pointed out that 2016's top-grossing release under 1,000 theaters thus far is Hello, My Name Is Doris, a vehicle for fellow nearly-septuagenarian Sally Field. If the story and characters compel, does it matter that the lead character is an older woman? It's easy to say no when it isn't your job or money on the line.

In any event, The Meddler is not a movie that was made to make people rich and grossing $4.2 million and change on a $3 million and change budget ensures it hasn't given any of its makers Marnie-type financial security. Though the movie recently made its way to DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, only the former was sent for review.

The Meddler DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Descriptive Video Service, French, Portuguese, Thai)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $25.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray ($26.99 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Sony oddly sent The Meddler on DVD rather than the requested Blu-ray for review. The studio's transfers are consistently some of the best out there, so for standard definition, this 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks pretty solid. The same can be said of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. It's not DTS-HD master audio, but it serves the material well. (It's worth noting that prominent layer change/abrupt scene change kind of kills what could be one of the film's funnier moments, an airport exchange with TSA.)

Rose Byrne and Susan Sarandon share a hearty laugh over ovulation tests in The Meddler's gag reel. Gail Scafaria, "The Real Marnie" (mother of writer-director Lorene Scafaria) acts out the same scenes that Susan Sarandon does in the film's opening.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD's extras begin with an audio commentary by writer-director Lorene Scafaria and star Susan Sarandon.
They speak to the autobiographical elements and how Scafaria's real mother inspired the movie, from filming a test of the opening to being around. Even with some lulls starting around the 20-minute mark, spending time with the two ladies driving this film makes an enjoyable listen.

A gag reel (4:08) preserves cast goofs, ad libs, and tomfoolery.

"The Real Marnie" (12:08) celebrates Gail Scafaria, the writer-director's mother. Comments from the two alongside each other are complemented by clips from the film, Sarandon remarks, and excerpts of the opening sizzle reel featuring Gail. You almost wonder if she wouldn't have added a fun element to the commentary.

Blues Traveler lead singer John Popper and writer-director Lorene Scafaria share a laugh over the realization that Hollywood indeed has called for the movie rights. Adapted from the poster art, The Meddler's DVD main menu places some warm colors behind the leading ladies.

Finally, having already addressed autobiographical elements, "The Making of The Meddler" (16:07) considers the production of the film, serving up plenty of behind-the-scenes footage
and paying notice to the lead and supporting cast. It also talks about getting permission to shoot in iconic LA locations and Apple stores and landing Blues Traveler to perform at the climactic wedding. It's a solid featurette.

Sadly, the DVD lacks The Meddler's own theatrical trailer, which is ordinarily a standard inclusion for Sony Pictures Classics. Nonetheless, the Previews section repeats the disc-opening trailers for The Bronze, Guernica, Hello, My Name Is Doris, and Equity.

The basic menu attaches a little piano score to a static design that places some of the poster's color behind the cover two-shot.

No digital copy is included here, which explains why no inserts accompany the plain silver disc inside the standard black keepcase.

Retired cop Randy Zipper (J.K. Simmons) emerges as a potential love interest for Marnie.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Meddler is better than you would expect. Funny, thoughtful, and terrifically acted, this indie comedy deserves a bigger audience and more recognition. Sony's DVD is pretty ordinary (and likely bested by the Blu-ray counterpart), but merits a look on the basis of the film.

Buy The Meddler from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed September 17, 2016.



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