by Ken B.
Carol (Blythe Danner) used to sing in a band, but that was decades ago. She isn’t married anymore either – her husband died twenty years ago in a plane crash, and in the ensuing years, she hasn’t found much interest in dating. A retired teacher living in southern California, she’s mostly content to play cards with her friends (Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, and June Squibb) and tend to her home and dog Hazel. But when her pet falls ill and dies, Carol slowly begins to make some changes to her otherwise habitual life. She befriends Lloyd (Martin Starr), the new pool cleaner. They talk whilst kicking back glasses of white wine, as well as going out to a karaoke bar (she is still a very good singer). Additionally, Carol catches the eye of a suave, charming man named Bill (Sam Elliott). The two of them about the same age, and he takes her out on his yacht where they share stories and connect. Carol is also preparing for her daughter Katherine (Malin Åkerman) to fly into town and pay a visit. These new developments in her life unexpectedly intertwine, and even as our protagonist ages, provide her with a new perspective and outlook.
I’ll See You in My Dreams is a soft, warm blanket of a movie. It stays away from needlessly optimistic or unrealistic sweetness, instead carrying both charm and complex, melancholy meditations on love, life, and loss. Brett Haley’s film, anchored by a captivating performance from Blythe Danner and an equally apt supporting cast, is a rare example of one which focuses on the feelings and desires of an older woman, and does so without judgement or cheap humor. It’s uncharacteristically perceptive and sensitive, and although the picture seems unwilling to even try to break new ground, it’s a worthwhile production that serves as a crowd pleaser without sacrificing nuance in the process.
Haley’s direction is confident but unintrusive, allowing his cast to shape both their characters and chemistry to each other over 92 minutes. It’s no surprise that Danner is able to create dynamic relationships with everyone onscreen, from the mature, assured work she pulls off with Elliott, to the understanding, honest, and witty exchanges she shares with Starr and Åkerman, to the playful back-and-forth in scenes with Perlman, Place, and Squibb. It’s joy to watch – talented actors take a screenplay and convert it to something more.
And yes, there is a problem with said script – the writing has trouble elevating itself to a place above thoroughly standard roots. Characters are only sporadically prodded for further depth, leaving things rather uneven. For example, the character of Bill is curiously underwritten for a major catalyst to the plot that he is – his most notable characteristic is how he constantly has an unlit cigar between his teeth. It’s hard to fully identify with his and Carol’s relationship when you know so little about the individual. Furthermore, Haley never feels willing to break out of formula structure, leaving the movie with a blander note than it’s clearly capable of, considering the talent involved.
But I’ll See You in My Dreams has this honest genuineness which carries it through its problems and guides us back to focus on the strength of its acting and the flow of its plot. Haley’s employment of simple, stripped-down scenery and chronological structuring allows for his cast to generate a wider field of performing and range. And this is all accomplished with a fair amount of restraint, even in the midst of a couple of scenes at the beginning and end which a lesser film would have overplayed, and subsequently entirely ruined. Balanced with stellar acting and interesting characters, Haley manages to present a movie which overcomes many of its faults and stands as an effective examination of pertinent emotions and ideas.