There has always been a lack of interesting roles for older women. That trend hasn’t been fixed, but at least in recent years there have been signs Hollywood is making more room for mature women.
Sally Field, 69, dove lovingly into the quirky lead role of “Hello, My Name is Doris” earlier this year. Now, Susan Sarandon, who is a month older than Field, has found her own quirky project with “The Meddler.” Both films are proof that older women can be as funny, interesting, sexy and bold as their younger counterparts.
In “The Meddler,” Sarandon embraces the role of East Coast native and West Coast transplant, Marnie Minervini. She moved to Los Angeles to be near her daughter, Lori Minervini (Rose Byrne), after the death of her husband.
The term “near” doesn’t adequately describe this mother-daughter relationship. Marnie is as clingy as a black sock dried with a load of towels. When she isn’t showing up at her daughter’s house unannounced, she’s calling or texting. They are living a life that is about one visit away from total suffocation.
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Lori’s also dealing with a failed relationship, the pressures of getting a TV pilot shot and her own grief about the loss of her father. Her mother’s unrelenting attention is only making matters worse. Lori would tell her therapist – that is, if her mom hadn’t taken up most of the appointments.
“The Meddler” works because of Sarandon’s ability to show so much passive-aggressive love. From a distance, her actions all seem to be the efforts of a woman with a massive heart who is willing to give big. Even her daughter’s friends wish that Marnie was their mother.
It’s the closer examination that begins to reveal the dirty secrets. Marnie’s intentions are only partly motivated by her concern for family and friends. She’s also driven by a consuming need to feel wanted and needed. If it means spending massive amounts of money or giving up her free time to make others want her, then Marnie’s willing to make those sacrifices.
At the same time, Sarandon makes the character very sympathetic. The few moments where it looks like her own happiness is being fed pushes Marnie into a flight scenario to escape from any potentially deep connections.
It finally takes a kindred soul in Zipper (J.K. Simmons), an ex-police officer Marnie meets on a film set, to make some emotional progress. He doesn’t knock down her walls, but he at least dislodges a few emotional bricks. Just watching Sarandon and the always dependable Simmons together is a joy.
Had Sarandon not had the razor-sharp acting skills to pull off this character, the movie would have collapsed under a mass of pseudo psycho babble and trite scenes. Sarandon is on target – whether it be dealing with the unraveling relationship with her daughter or tripping through the Los Angeles shopping spot of The Grove. Her view of the outdoor mall, which it is like Main Street in Disneyland, would seem awkward coming from a lesser talent.
Hollywood is always going to lean toward youth, especially with women. It’s wonderful that when given a chance, mature female actors can show they are the most capable at playing complex roles that come across in a very simple way.