Susan Sarandon, left, and Rose Byrne in The Meddler (Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures Classics)

Susan Sarandon, left, and Rose Byrne in The Meddler (Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures Classics)

Susan Sarandon plays Marnie, a recently widowed New York City woman who has relocated to sunny Los Angeles to live near her screenwriter daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). The movie establishes very early on that Marnie well earns the titular description as she imposes her unasked-for advice on every single person she encounters in her daily life. Most notably she frequents her local Apple Store seemingly every time she has a question about how to use an app on her iPhone.

While Rose Byrne may have second billing, she’s mostly absent from the movie. In fact, this is solidly Sarandon’s film. That sounds better than it is. Being in absolutely every scene, Marnie becomes more than a little grating halfway through. This is not a Meryl Streep-losing-herself-in-the-character kind of role. Instead, Sarandon is performing a caricature throughout. One might imagine in between takes Sarandon watching clips of Ellen Burstyn’s performance in Requiem for a Dream to observe her voice and mannerisms. Watch it. The two characters are eerily similar.

Because Byrne, who has been turning in top-shelf performances recently (Bridesmaids, Spy), is only around for one-third of the film, we barely get to know Lori aside from her being depressed from a recent breakup with a movie star and that she is constantly annoyed by Marnie’s meddling, which presumably she has had to put up with her whole life. Lori’s face shows a weariness that could only come from a lifetime of combatting her mother’s insistence on being involved in every little aspect of her life, quite surely the reason Lori moved to the other side of the country in the first place. But because the film spends so little time with her, when her character arc hits its climax it doesn’t have the impact the filmmakers probably hoped it would have.

Rounding out the cast is JK Simmons (Whiplash) playing retired cop Zipper who, for some reason, looks and sounds just like ’80s icon Sam Elliott but comes off a little creepy. Zipper is supposed to be Marnie’s love interest, reluctant as she is to get into anything this soon after her husband’s death. The whole time they are together Marnie looks as though she’s being held against her will. But who knows, maybe that’s what she goes for.

Was that intended? Who knows? The film succeeds when Marnie simply explores and experiences surreal Los Angeles as a woman in her retirement years—she wanders onto a film set and gets inserted into a scene as a background player. While the plot is made very obvious from the beginning, what felt like a breath of fresh air are the characters’ backstories and the sense of the void caused by her husband’s death, which are slowly doled out over the course of the film. This helps explain Marnie’s impulsive interfering that becomes so severe she ends up financing one of Lori’s friend’s weddings. There are times when Marnie’s meddling goes too far, but the film never fully commits to showing how her actions could lead to some dire consequences.

The film has a slew of talented actors filling out minor roles: Michael McKean, Cecily Strong, Casey Wilson, and Jason Ritter. All have a look in their eyes like they are forgetting they are in this movie even as they are saying their lines. The Meddler is thrown together so slapdash no one seems invested in giving more than a smile while they brandish Apple products.

Granted, The Meddler at times is cute. It’s downright adorable in places. But savvy audiences will leave the theater scratching their heads over the question: Is this an indie that wants to be a mainstream comedy or a mainstream comedy that wants to be an indie?

Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Produced by Joy Gorman Wettels
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
USA. 100 min. Rated PG-13
With Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons, Jerrod Carmichael, Cecily Strong, Lucy Punch, Casey Wilson, and Jason Ritter