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Knight at the movies: 'The Meddler' and other mothers
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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Mom is just a phone call away

If there's one thing I love it's a good mother-daughter movie. And with Mother's Day approaching, there are lots to choose from to celebrate. Mommie Dearest, Postcards from the Edge, the animated Brave, The Kids Are All Right, Freaky Friday, Stella Dallas and even The Exorcist are just a few favorite suggestions. This week—surprise, surprise—there are actually two mother-daughter movies in theaters. Mother's Day, from director Garry Marshall, wasn't screened for critics ( see synopsis in this week's calendar ) but The Meddler was—and it's a surprising, gentle delight.

At first, The Meddler seems to suggest it's going to be as typical as its plot suggests. Mom, a New Jersey widow who has recently moved to California to be closer to her only offspring, a TV writer, is a serial phone-caller, leaving message after message for her daughter and stopping by unannounced. Financially independent, Marnie Minervini ( Susan Sarandon ) fills her life doing for everyone else when Lori ( Rose Byrne ) sets up boundaries and then takes off for New York to shoot a TV pilot. It's clear that mom is doing everything she can to fill the hole in her empty life ( including paying for the lesbian wedding of a couple she barely knows and giving rides to night school for the young man at the Apple store who set her up with a new iPhone ).

Then, subtly, the movie and the character move beyond the overbearing stereotype. Instead of caricature, writer-director Lorene Scafaria bestows Marnie ( and the audience ) with a sweetness and complexity rarely seen at the Cineplex anymore. Sarandon's fully rounded performance certainly doesn't hurt. In her capable hands, Marnie comes to life as she struggles to regain her footing. ( In many ways, the movie is actually a latter-day coming-of-age story, complete with a budding romance. ) Like Lily Tomlin in last year's Grandma, it's about time Hollywood found a role this fulfilling for an actor of Sarandon's immense gifts. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, Michael McKean, Byrne and several other character actors offer excellent supporting work.

More mom: Meryl Streep, looking tanned and fit, sings up a storm in Mamma Mia!, the frothy 2008 big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical-comedy sensation that utilizes the '70s hit songs of Abba as its score. Dick O'Day ( the alter ego of yours truly ) hosts a third annual Mother's Day sing-a-long screening at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., on Sunday, May 8 at 2 p.m. A '70s costume contest ( mother-daughter combos encouraged ), prizes and an interactive screening guide are included in the fun.

You might also like: In Michelle Boyaner's Packed in a Trunk, now available on DVD from Wolfe Releasing, out writer-director Jane Anderson ( Olive Kitteridge ) retraces the tragic journey of her beloved great-aunt Edith Lake Wilkinson, a financially independent painter who tragically ended up in a mental asylum for being a lesbian.

Death becomes them

A trio of ghoulish recent home releases—a black comedy, a sexy murder mystery and a remake of a classic Agatha Christie—makes up my latest recommendations as additions to your home collection.

First up is 1992's black comedy Death Becomes Her—an outlandish, special effects-driven comedy with over-the-top performances from Meryl Streep as an aging, vain movie star who will do anything to regain her youthful looks ( and body ), Goldie Hawn as her longtime nemesis and Bruce Willis as a nebbish plastic surgeon who comes between them. After drinking an elixir that will keep them alive forever, Streep and Hawn discover that not even eternal life protects one from the scourge of vanity. Not terrifically loved by critics but adored by gay men everywhere for its admittedly camp settings and acting, the film has been given a good-looking Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory along with some new special features.

Next up, from Artsploitation, is Death in Buenos Aires, a staple on the queer-film festival route last year. ( It played closing night at Reeling. ) Oscar-nominated actor Damian Bichir stars as a police detective investigating the murder of a handsome escort in Argentine's gay underworld. He is aided by his gorgeous male cop partner who goes undercover playing gay to try and solve the crime. As the plot thickens, so does the attraction between the two supposedly straight men. It's a sexy, Almodovar-like film delivered by director Natalia Meta.

Finally, the Agatha Christie 1939 classic And Then There Were None has been adapted by the BBC into a three-part miniseries shown stateside on Lifetime and released by Acorn Media. A raft of British stars ( Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill and sexy Hobbit star Aidan Turner ) are among the 10 strangers assembled in a lonely mansion on an inaccessible island by a mysterious host and are then one by one, picked off. So whodunit? That's half the fun in Christie's familiar tale, aided in this version by hunky Turner and the rest of its terrific cast, eerie location and a relentless foreboding that never lets up.

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films opening in Chicago, April 29 and May 6 ( some descriptions come from studio press materials ):

—Keanu ( April 15 )—After a heartless thief steals his cat, Rell ( Jordan Peele ) recruits his cousin Clarence ( Keegan-Michael Key ) to help him retrieve it.

—The Meddler ( April 29 )—See details above.

—Mother's Day ( 4-29 )—Garry Marshall ( The Princess Diaries, Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, Pretty Woman ) is back with another all-star romantic comedy—this one a tale of white sisterhood solidarity, intertwining the lives of a TV host ( Julia Roberts ), a divorcee looking for love ( Jennifer Anniston ), and a woman ( Kate Hudson ) trying to improve her relationship with her mother. Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Jon Lovitz and Margo Martindale costar. April 29

—Gayby Baby ( April 30 only )—A 2013 Australian feature documentary from director Maya Newall has four kids taking viewers into their homes and share what it's like growing up with same-sex parents. The film takes an intimate, character-driven approach to issues at the heart of modern social politics. According to promotional materials from event organizers, "the film is a springboard for the conversation and a means to empower children of LGBTQ+ parents to embrace their diversity and celebrate their families."

To that end, the two screenings ( at 12 and 4:45 p.m. ) on Saturday, April 30 at 5645 N. Ravenswood Ave. will be sandwiched around a 3 p.m. panel discussion featuring an assortment of LGBTQ+ experts. Newell and family advocate Zach Wahls will also be sharing a special message with the audience. The event is appropriate for all ages and is being co-sponsored by a host of queer non-profits. The screenings are free, but reservations are mandatory.

—Captain America: Civil War ( May 6 )—The superheroes are back in this third ( or is it 10th? ) film in the ever-expanding Marvel universe that kicks off the summer blockbuster season.

—Sworn Virgin ( May 6 )—An Albanian woman ( Alba Rohrwacher ) who, according to her region's custom, has lived as a man for most of her life now wants to reclaim her sexual identity. Rohrwacher, luminous as the lesbian daughter of Tilda Swinton in I Am Love, turns in a tender, complex performance in the title role. It's playing exclusively at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.

—Viva ( May 6 )—A young gay hairdresser ( Hector Medina ) in Cuba clashes with his estranged father ( Jorge PerugorrÃa ) when his dream of performing in drag comes true. Helmed by Irish director Paddy Breathnach, the film was Ireland's official submission for 2015's Best Foreign Film Oscar.

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