What a joy to see a film written for mature actors, and particularly with Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott as the leads! As writer/director Brett Haley succinctly and sweetly shows us in “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, there is romance and fun to be had in the later post-AARP years.
Carol is a widow. With her husband gone for more than two decades, and her daughter long gone from home, but for the gaggle of girlfriends who live at the local upscale retirement home, Carol’s constant companion has been her dog, also in his senior years (be they people or dog years). Retiring from teaching on the death of her husband, she has never really faced his passing, but rather has been going through the motions of living in a house full of memories and sticking to an almost scripted daily routine (including drinking lots of wine). And now Carol must now face the passing of her dog. Could life be passing her by? What is there for her now?
For girlfriends Rona, Sally and Georgina, Carol’s answer is simple. Put herself back in the dating game. Egad! Really? Reluctantly, Carol agrees to “give it a try” and accompanies the fun-loving Sally to a speed-dating night at the retirement home. Never again. But her interest is piqued when approached by a man in the local drugstore who pays her a compliment. Brushing him off, she wonders if there might be a little more to this man than a mere flirt when he sees her again in the parking lot her forgettable post-speed dating experience, and invites her to lunch. Almost embarrassed, she puts him off. But when he – Bill – remembers her phone number and calls her, Carol has to stop and think.
In the meantime, Carol has been spending a lot of time with her pool man Lloyd who is almost a knight in shining armor when it comes to afternoon wine and capturing a pesky rat who continually races across the floor, forcing Carol to repeatedly stay on her patio. There is sweet comedy that comes from this odd friendship, but it spurs Carol onward in life, reawakens the life and dreams she once had, and pushes her to say “yes” to Bill.
Blythe Danner is radiant as Carol. One of the strongest performances of her career, be it on stage or screen, if you know anything about Danner’s personal life and her marriage to Bruce Paltrow, then you immediately see the parallels between Danner and her on-screen persona of Carol. The result is effortless ease and comfortability with tender poignancy.
Sam Elliott is still the mustachioed man who makes women swoon just by the sound of his voice, and he does just that here. As Bill, love interest to Danner’s Carol, Elliott loved the character. “I gotta walk around with a cigar in my mouth – that wasn’t my favorite. But I liked this guy. I liked that he was footloose, which I’m not. He was a good guy. I liked that he was a gentleman which spoke to me, and I like to think that I am and have been raised to be one. I really liked the character and I loved the piece.”
The real fun and joy come in the form of Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squibb. Playing to the comedic sensibilities of Perlman and Place with Squibb serving as straightwoman, the ladies are hilarious!
The younger generation is represented by Martin Starr and Malin Akerman. As pool man Lloyd, Starr is a deadpan delight while Akerman, as Carol’s daughter Katherine, does a respectable job in two brief scenes which unfortunately, in all honesty, don’t need to be in the film. A waste of Akerman’s considerable talents.
Written and directed by Brett Haley, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is his sophomore feature following “The New Year” five years ago. As with “The New Year”, Haley’s strongest suits are his script, casting and cinematography. As all of the actors agree, not only are they appreciative of a script written for mature actors, but that it’s a well written script. As Elliott states, “It’s just a well written, well crafted piece. The phenomenal thing is that a kid of 24/5/6 years old wrote it. And I was, ‘Where does Brett get a story about people of this age?’ He’s so able to put his finger on the truth about really important issues in life. It’s such an every man tale. That’s one of the things that spoke to me. We’re all going there. . .This movie touches everyone. It touches all of us, I think. And it just jumped out at me. Sure, it was that WOW.”
When it comes to Rob Givens’ cinematography, the film is beautiful to look at. Light, crisp, clean and bright, the visual bandwidth serves as a tonal balance to the darker themes of aging, loneliness and death.
However, as with his first feature, Haley proves too precious with his concept when it comes to editing. Also wearing the editor’s hat, Haley fails to develop and maintain a rhythm or even flow. There is a lack of cadence. Some scenes hang there like a fish out of water, as well as being too long. The whole mother-daughter segment falls flat and could have been eliminated completely. Also adding a disjointed aspect to the film is the absence of sufficient scoring which could have aided in smoothing the rough edges of some of the over-extended scenes and awkward silences.
But despite Haley’s shortcomings, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” is still a showcase for superb actors, legends in fact, who deliver engaging substantive performances, a well written script filled with heart and humor, and some beautifully engaging visuals filled with hope and promise of the beauty the world has to offer, no matter your age.
Written and Directed by Brett Haley
Cast: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, June Squibb, Mary Kay Place, Rhea Perlman, Malin Akerman, Martin Starr