Surprisingly, I’ll See You In My Dreams was a big hit with critics and audiences when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. I say surprising because this comedy-drama about an aging widow who tries to find renewed life 20 years after the death of her husband is at its heart an old-fashioned movie about senior dilemmas that would seem to be the antithesis of what hip film fests go for these days. As I say in my video review above, movies where retired ladies sit around the club playing bridge and golf and drinking chardonnay all day aren’t exactly the stuff of contemporary cinema. This film, starring a luminous Blythe Danner, was directed by young helmer Brett Haley, who co-wrote it with Marc Bosch, and it does carry the conceits of what the sunset of life looks like as filtered through the eyes of a filmmaker who hasn’t lived it himself. Surely, as the classic Harold And Maude or Alexander Payne’s brilliant Nebraska showed, life can be more complex than this when you hit your final decades.
But just when you think it is going to drown in a sea of cliches on this subject matter that look at times like it is stuck in the 1950s, the movie is gloriously rescued by its cast, led by the wonderful, award-worthy Danner in a rare full-bodied leading film role as Carol, a woman in her 70s whose husband died many years earlier. Since then, apparently, she has put her life in a neat box, living in a well-appointed San Fernando Valley home with her dog, striking up a quirky friendship with her pool man (a deadpan and very funny Martin Starr), playing cards with the girlfriends (the terrific trio of Rhea Perlman, June Squibb and Mary Kay Place) in their retirement community and trying to reconnect with her grown daughter (sweet Malin Akerman). I use the word “apparently” because the script is very pared down and not really interested in a lot of backstory on these characters. It just sort of meanders through its tight 92 minutes from one episode to another as her friends try to engage Carol and put a man back in her life. She is even dragged to a speed-dating place by Perlman in a funny sequence that looks like it was right out of a sitcom (there’s a great bit about herpes — really). The pool guy takes her to a karaoke club where he sings terribly and she sings great, leading to the plot revelation that she had long ago given up her career as a songstress. The best is yet to come, though, when she keeps “meeting cute” with another retiree (Sam Elliott), who livens up her life and every scene he’s in.
There is one unfortunate story twist that takes the viewer by surprise, and I don’t think it was really necessary, but no spoiler here. On the other hand, if you have any sensitivity at all to animal deaths, I would strongly advise you to skip the first five minutes when her dog is put to sleep on a vet’s table and we have to watch in excruciating detail. Just sayin’. The movie stacks the deck early. No husband, no dog, no career, no grandkid, no love life and a lot of white wine. But it is worth every minute if it serves as a reminder that “mature” audiences want to go to movies about people their own age and Hollywood should get the fact that there are a lot of great actors out there like Danner and Elliott (even better in another Sundance film, Grandma ) who can still carry a film and make it sing — just as 84-year-old Gena Rowlands gloriously proved recently in Six Dance Lessons In Six Weeks, another low-budget indie aimed at the Social Security demo. New distributor Bleecker Street gets it — this is its second film after the entertaining Danny Collins, which also had a killer cast of veteran stars — and it is releasing I’ll See You In My Dreams on Friday in LA and NY, followed by a gradual rollout the rest of the month. Rebecca Green and Laura D. Smith joined Haley as producers. There were 10 listed executive producers for the film shot in a mere 18 days.
Do you plan to see I’ll See You In My Dreams? Let us know what you think.