“The Meddler” has turned out to be one the sweetest cinematic surprises of 2016. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, it stars Susan Sarandon as Marnie Minervini who was recently widowed and ends up moving from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne). Marnie is desperate to help Lori anyway she can, but it doesn’t take long for Lori to become infinitely irritated with her to where she is eager to set up some boundaries. As a result, Marnie goes on to help others whom she feels needs her assistance, and she also becomes involved with a retired cop who goes by the name of Zipper (J.K. Simmons). But deep down she is still dealing with her husband’s death and still has yet to move on from it.
I recently got to attend “The Meddler” press day which featured Sarandon, Simmons and Scafaria. Here are some things we learned about them and the movie.
1. Susan Sarandon knows the secret to being a good meddler.
“The secret to being a meddler is just to do it from the very beginning so they think that’s normal,” Sarandon said which had everyone laughing. “And I definitely do and they meddle back. It’s a mutual meddling thing. I do not show up with bagels constantly, but I do send things constantly. They don’t take my phone calls so I text, and I send videos and music and they do the same thing. I’m a big believer in making mistakes, so I encourage my kids to fail constantly so they understand that they can come back. I always assume that they’ll get back up.”
2. The movie deals with a romance between people of a certain age.
“The Meddler” features some wonderful romantic moments between Sarandon, 69, and Simmons, 61. Now this is not something we see in many movies today as people in Hollywood would consider those at that age to be “demographically undesirable,” but that didn’t stop Scafaria in bringing one to the silver screen at a time where relationships like these usually go straight to television. Both Sarandon and Simmons were pleased to see this in the script, and Simmons was especially impressed.
“It’s great,” Simmons said. “It’s nice to see people who want to tell stories about people based on something other than what’s going to be marketable, and I think coincidentally there’s something here that will be both because it’s a story that’s funny and impactful, and it happens to be about a couple of people who are not in their 20’s.”
3. Sarandon said that love stories like the one in “The Meddler” are the bravest to tell.
“Every film I’ve ever done, no matter who the other people are, has been a love story because, for me, the bravest thing, the most moving thing anybody can do is decide to make contact with another person, and be intimate with them. Not even sexually, but just to be seen,” Sarandon said. “I think that makes you so vulnerable and so when I go to the movies, I want to root for that contact.”
Sarandon continued. “I think you root for that because everybody wants to have contact with somebody. That’s really what our tribe is about, is always looking to make contact.”
4. Sarandon plays Marnie as a real person and not a stereotypical character.
For myself, the thing I really admired about Sarandon’s performance in “The Meddler” is that she didn’t portray Marnie as some stereotypical Italian mother, and the movie is all the stronger for that. She thanked me for saying that, and then I asked her what she felt was most important to her when it came to inhabiting the character of Marnie.
“Oh, I was never asked that question,” Sarandon replied. “For the tone of the film, it was really important that everything be approached as in reality and real and I didn’t want to wink at the audience or patronize the audience or patronize her. I think that it was so well written, and there’s nothing funnier than desperation, so if you just trust that and commit to it. I basically just wanted to make sure that she was real and not trying to play the comedy and just trust that there was enough going on there, and then just really be as open as possible and surrender to that. I think as much as she is afraid of certain things that her heart is very open, even when she doesn’t know someone’s last name. It was important to try to stay in that state and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t think she was funny. I think she’s really sincere.”
5. J.K. Simmons has had experience with chickens in real life.
One of the most touching scenes in “The Meddler” comes when Zipper shows Marnie around his home and introduces her to his nest of chickens. Simmons delivers the names of those chickens and the kind of music that makes them especially active in such a natural way that you cannot help but believe he was a farmer before he became an actor.
“My chicken experience goes back to grandpa’s farm outside of Roseville, Illinois where we went every summer to visit, and little did I know that would come in so handy in a Lorene Scafaria movie lo these 50 whatever years later,” Simmons said. “One of my favorite things about the chicken scene, aside from the fact that it was the chicken scene, was that I was allowed to name the chickens after my aunts and my cousins and Lorene’s mother.”
6. Sarandon is as generous as Marnie is in the movie.
When Marnie is brushed aside by Lori for getting way too into her life, she then seeks out other people like Jillian (Cecily Strong) whose wedding she helps plan and pay for, and Apple Store employee Freddy (Jarrod Carmichael) whom she drives to his college classes. Marnie is generous to a fault, and Sarandon doesn’t see much that is wrong with that.
“Who cares if you’re helping people what the reason is? I don’t judge it. My business manager puts his foot down. That’s what stops me. But I think you investigate. I was the oldest of nine kids and when I did start to get money, I had to learn when to interfere, and when to let people (take care of themselves). Even with my kids, I remember my son saying, ‘Having an allowance and having to do this makes me so tense mom.’ Eventually he had to start paying for things and figuring out how to work it, so you don’t want to take that away from people. I don’t think you can be too generous. I say err on the side of generosity anytime. There’s enough mean people in the world.”
7. J.K. Simmons sings in the movie, and he sings beautifully.
Long before he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Whiplash” or appeared in movies like “Juno” and the “Spider-Man” trilogy. Simmons was best known for his work in the theater and his singing abilities. He has played Benny Southstreet in a revival of the musical “Guys & Dolls,” Jigger in a revival of “Carousel” and starred in the Off-Broadway musical “Birds of Paradise.” In fact, he originally was focused more on music than he was in becoming an actor.
“I have always been a great singer, yes,” Simmons said. “Actually, there was a point in my life when that was my career path, or so I thought. I was studying classical music in college.”
The Meddler is now open in Los Angeles and New York.