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Movie Review | ★ ★

A middling ‘Meddler’

Susan Sarandon stars as recently widowed Marnie in “The Meddler.”
Susan Sarandon stars as recently widowed Marnie in “The Meddler.”Jaimie Trueblood/Sony Pictures Classics/Jaimie Trueblood, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Here’s a problem that most people wouldn’t mind having.

Recently widowed Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) was left well taken care of by her late husband. Now she lives in LA to be near her grown-up daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), a struggling screenwriter with a broken heart. Marnie doesn’t have to work, lives in a beautiful home, and has more money than she knows what to do with. How sad!

OK, there’s more to it. But situations like this in “The Meddler,” Lorene Scafaria’s episodic, semi-autobiographical comedy (that’s the problem with real life — there’s no three-act structure), might fail to stir up sympathy in the average moviegoer.

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At its best, however, “The Meddler” offers insight into a problem shared at some point by most people (especially women, because they usually end up as the caretakers of parents): What happens when the parent-child relationship is reversed?

As Marnie sees it, she’s still in charge, micromanaging Lori’s life while Lori tries to help Marnie find what’s missing in hers.

The rest of the time, Marnie performs acts of kindness for multi-cultured strangers. Lori’s married lesbian friends never had a real wedding, so Marnie rents a yacht to do it up right, spending roughly what it takes to build a hospital in a third world country. The African-American Apple employee who shows her how to operate her iPhone tells her about his ambition to get a degree, so Marnie dips into her Candide-like optimism and checking account to help out.

Her philanthropy verges on the pathological, only intensifying the need she is trying to satisfy. Could the answer be the ex-cop with the unfortunate name of Zipper? Hint: He’s played by J.K. Simmons with a walrus moustache in a melding of Chris O’Dowd as the cop in “Bridesmaids” (2011) and Sam Elliott as the Stranger in “The Big Lebowski” (1998).

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“The Meddler” is a disappointment after the talent Scafaria demonstrated in her 2012 feature debut “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” To see a film that handles similar themes and draws more from reality than Hollywood conventions, check out Nicole Holofcener’s 2010 social comedy, “Please Give.”

★ ★
THE MEDDLER

Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria. Starring Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne, J.K. Simmons. At Kendall Square, West Newton. 100 minutes. PG-13 (brief drug content).