Six months ago Toronto Film Festival critics mostly agreed that Lorene Scafaria‘s The Meddler (Sony Classics, 4.22) is an affecting, above-average mother-daughter relationship dramedy, and that Susan Sarandon gives an exceptional performance as an intrusive mom and that costars Rose Byrne (i.e., the daughter) and J.K. Simmons (the prospective boyfriend) hold their own. It recently screened for N.Y. media types, and I’m sure it’ll eventually be shown to the Los Angeles contingent.
What got my attention this morning was a Meddler synopsis in an email from Falco Ink, the N.Y.-based p.r. agency. Here’s how it reads: “With a new iPhone, an apartment near the Grove and a comfortable bank account left to her by her beloved late husband, Marnie Minervini (Sarandon) has happily relocated from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be near her daughter Lori (Byrne), a successful but still single screenwriter, and smother her with motherly love.”
The first part of the sentence is obviously seeking to describe an agreeable way for Minnie to start her new life here, and yet “an apartment near the Grove” is absolutely no one’s idea of a cool concept. No hip person, I mean. Okay, the area isn’t far from a mostly-Jewish, retirement-friendly neighborhood a couple of blocks to the north, but the Grove — a small-scale Orlando Disneyworld at the corner of Third Street and Fairfax Avenue, and yet ironically adjacent to the agreeably funky atmosphere of the Farmer’s Market — is one of the most depressing and oppressive environments in the entire city, and I’m including Skid Row in this assessment.
Plastic, corporate and indistinguishable from 10,000 other outdoor shopping environments that have popped up across the U.S. over the last 20 to 25 years, the Grove is a nightmare — a sister of Santa Monica Place and Universal Citywalk, and a place that sends me into a black mood pit every time I attend a screening at the Pacific Grove plex, which is located smack dab in the center of it.
On top of which the Grove is completely flooded on weekends with jabbering, tackily-dressed, low-rent types — some Latino but mostly Middle-Eastern families (women in hijabs, groups of eight or ten waddling down Main Street, screaming toddlers, Baby Huey-sized teens in white sneakers). Of all the places you can experience and settle into in this great, sprawling city, the Grove is among the blandest and most toxic. And yet someone on the Meddler team (presumably Scafaria) thinks that living near this synthetic hellhole is a good thing for a just-arrived New Jersey mom. That in itself gives me pause.
I deliberately avoided seeing The Meddler in Toronto because of the title; despite the 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating the title still has me a bit spooked.