We’re in the last stages of the primary season, so forgive me for talking about a revolution; just know that I’m definitely not talking about overthrowing the political establishment of either party or embarking on a course of transformative economic shifts.
In truth, though, the change I’m referring to here has roots in real-world concerns, specifically the ongoing call for diversity, which never seems far from the minds of those in the film industry. Our screens, if we’re paying close attention, reflect our national bias, which skews toward the perspective and presentation of white men to the exclusion of almost everyone else, moreso than the composition of the leaders in our three branches of government.
Sometimes, in my role as a critic, I fancy myself a meddler of sorts — a voice that questions the endless parade of characters that never seem to look like me and the barrage of regurgitated narratives that never seem to acknowledge the possibility that I might not only share similar experiences but even take center stage in my own version of the tales.
And thus far, I’m only focusing on the primary elements of race and gender. Add age to the mix and you’ve got the unholy triumvirate of plagues, the ultimate pox on reel humanity.
We tend to address these concerns in piecemeal fashion, chipping away at them, one at a time. Occasionally, a sweet spot emerges where a single film can take aim at a couple of targets at once, leading to a rousing swell of enthusiasm and the laying down of some measure of guilt.
You see, the industry says, we are willing to pull the curtain back and show that it’s a small world after all, with a host of others wandering through the frames.
Welcome to the age of the older white woman! Hollywood has found a trend worth celebrating and a talented collection of performers to lead the charge.
Following closely on the heels of Sally Field in Hello, My Name Is Doris and the recent release of the second season of Netflix show Grace and Frankie (starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) comes The Meddler, featuring Susan Sarandon as a well-meaning widow from New York who follows her screenwriting daughter (Rose Byrne) to Los Angeles and makes a nuisance of herself.
Now, before this starts to sound like a cynical bashing, let me say that, especially in the case of the films — Hello, My Name is Doris and The Meddler — what we get are a pair of characters with intriguing multi-layered dimensions, women who have stepped past “that certain age” when their male counterparts stumble through their crises, leaving their wives and common sense behind.
Marnie (Sarandon) has lost her husband but gained a degree of freedom that she doesn’t understand.
She’s a woman of means with a gloriously big heart and nothing but time. Her real problem, which her daughter Lori (Byrne), despite being a writer, can’t seem to express to her, is that she has no sense of self. Marnie has likely lived her entire life for and through others. She is “the meddler” of the title, but meddling is perhaps too harsh an assessment of Marnie. She has simply never turned her attention inward.
In the idealized world of the movies, Marnie should meet up with Doris (Field), the other mature lady caught standing in front of our gazes here recently, and hang out. The pair offers a normalized alternative to the sexy Thelma & Louise dynamic duo that Hollywood thinks we want and need.
But who says Sarandon and Field should be like the female versions of Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas, ambling through Last Vegas or yukking it up like De Niro (again) in Bad Grandpa?
Writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) relies on Sarandon and her own surprisingly deft touch (for a relatively new filmmaker) to ensure that even in its most obtrusive moments, The Meddler never tips over into broadly thoughtless hijinks. As Marnie, Sarandon creates a woman full of foibles and a big heart that just won’t quit, and the world is a better place thanks to her busy hands.
I only wish that industry insiders would take lessons from Marnie and meddle with mainstream sensibilities, allowing a multi-perspective revolution to rule. (Opens Friday) (PG-13) Grade: B+