With its title and poster you'd be forgiven for thinking this Susan Sarandon vehicle is a broad comedy in the vein of My Big Fat Greek Interfering Mother. But Lorene Scafaria's (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World) humorous and tender film is just a lovely thing and boasts Sarandon’s finest performance in a very long time.
rooklynite Marnie Miniverni (Sarandon) is a widower still coming to terms with the death of her husband, who had ensured that she would be financially comfortable when he died. Despite her chatty nature and cheery disposition, she's lonely and so moves to LA to be closer to her daughter, Lori (Byrne), a TV writer getting over a recent breakup to a movie star (Jason Ritter). Byrne doesn’t welcome the intrusion and so Marnie casts about for other projects: paying for Byrne's friend's (Cecily Strong) wedding, driving an Apple Genius (Jerrod Carmichael) to his night class, volunteering at the hospital, and flirting with a possible romance with retired policeman J.K. Simmons.
o it sounds like there’s a lot of faffing about with Sarandon the only thing linking random mini-adventures – like the brush with traffic police forcing her to swallow of bag marijuana which leads to a predictable stoned sequence that’s desperately unfunny – but Scafaria allows the subtle changes in Marnie to give the disparate escapades momentum.
arandon's subtle turn allows one to peek under the surface of her upbeat façade every once in a while and catch glimpse of the sadness underneath. When she calls on her husband's family she remarks it’s been a year since he died… but they correct her: it's been two, and the surprise on her face is a heartbreaker - a beautiful moment where she realises that she might in fact be struggling. A set visit of Lori's pilot shoot, a rom-com which Lori has obviously based on her life, induces a tiny tear when she sees the man playing her dead husband. "You look just like him," she whispers to the oblivious actor during a break. Apart from the odd photo, or a brief look at his driver's licence which Marnie still carries around, this is really the only time we get to 'see' him yet his spectre overshadows everything.
hese small yet seismic scenes and attention to detail may come from a very personal place - the story inspired in no small way by the death of Scafaria's father and her relationship with her mother – but it's never self-indulgent, with the writer-director keeping things universal throughout. It does get sentimental towards the end and tidies things up a little too easily but by then it earns those moments.
real charmer, this.