The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

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Seeing is Believing

Bleeker Street Media
 02 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Brett Haley
Starring: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott 
I'll See You in My Dreams

One of the great movie lines about movies occurs in First Wives Club, when Goldie Hawn says, “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.” Fortunately, Blythe Danner and Brett Haley, the star and writer/director respectively of I’ll See You in My Dreams, weren’t aware of that statement, because they’ve added a distinctive fourth age, one that Hawn might well play today, the still sexy senior citizen.


Of course, it takes a while for Carol Petersen (Danner) to appreciate who she really is in I’ll See You in My Dreams. When the film begins, she’s an independent widow, who’s had no man in her life since her husband died and left her well off some 20 years earlier. She still lives in her own home, despite the blandishments of her three closest friends (Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, and June Squibb) to move in with them at the retirement center. Carol, however, is content to live her well-ordered life in her neatly kept home with a swimming pool she never uses. Her only close companion is her dog Hazel.


And then Hazel dies. And Carol has to take stock of her life and now finds that something, or more accurately someone, is missing. Her initial attempt to reconnect with other people at a speed-dating event is a disaster, but she winds up meeting two very different men with whom she gets involved in different ways.


Carol first strikes up an acquaintance with Lloyd (Martin Starr), her pool boy. He’s a 30ish failed poet and songwriter who is biding time cleaning pools until he figures out what to do with his life. He shares a glass of wine or two with Carol (it’s clear she relies on the wine to get her through the day), talks with her about her musical career (she was a singer before she married), and takes her to a karaoke bar where she belts out an excellent version of “Cry Me a River.” Their relationship teeters on the edge of becoming physical, despite the four-decade age difference. It’s a mark of how well written and directed In My Dreams is that the audience doesn’t find this last development strange or disturbing (this isn’t an update of Harold and Maude), just two lonely people reaching for help.


There’s no teetering, albeit a bit of hesitation, in Carol’s relationship with Bill (Sam Elliott), the hunky prize catch of the retirement home. Like her, he’s fiercely independent, frequently going out on his boat, and determined to live his life to the fullest. He finds Carol attractive and wants a physical relation but also values her company and is willing to be a gentleman to woo her and win her. And, since he’s Sam Elliott, there’s plenty of women in the audience a lot younger than 70 who will be charmed by his manner and sex appeal. Elliott and Danner have an immediate, enormous chemistry in this film.


I’ll See You in My Dreams is a short movie, barely 90 minutes long, but it doesn’t feel rushed or as if needed scenes are missing. After the film is over, viewers may well realize that director Haley has omitted some emotional scenes that some directors might have included, but he and his gifted cast are able to convey the necessary information in fewer, more meaningful scenes. Danner in particular is a master of subtle acting here, shedding a single tear when she says goodbye to her beloved dog, for instance. This may well be her best film work ever (not difficult considering in recent years she’s best been known for playing Robert De Niro’s wife in the Focker movies) and could be remembered at Oscar time.


While In My Dreams marks a welcome return of sorts for Blythe Danner, it also represents a solid debut for Brett Haley (this is the first movie he’s directed with any name actors in it), who’s more of a contemporary of Lloyd than the other characters in the film. Haley resists all temptation to play the film for cheap laughs, even in the speed-dating scene. It’s true that the men Carol meets aren’t what she’s looking for, but they’re very human types, putting their hearts on their sleeves. Especially good is her first “date,” played by Max Gail, who’s wearing a three-piece suit and acting as if he’s formally courting her, only to quickly realize that the attraction isn’t there.


The movie does have its one big comic set piece, in which Carol and her friends try some medical marijuana and get a huge case of the munchies, loading a shopping cart at a nearby grocery with tons of junk food. It’s quite a funny scene, especially when they are stopped by a cop while they are walking home with the shopping cart. But the scene never descends to the level of “dotty old lady” humor, as Carol and her friends clearly have their wits around them, albeit a bit muddled.


In My Dreams has a relatively small number of scenes that Haley allows to play out as long as they need without dragging. Carol’s daughter (Malin Akerman) shows up, and during the course of essentially an overnight stay, viewers see how distant they really are, how much they care for each other (each accurately views the other as the best thing they’ve ever had in their lives), that each blames herself for the distance, and that each is fully aware of just what type relationship they have. Entire mother/daughter movies don’t achieve that much clarity in two hours, let alone ten minutes.


Many movies, especially dramedies like I’ll See You in My Dreams, end the way the audience would like them to end, even as viewers realize how the director and writer are cheating to give them that ending. In My Dreams ends the way it should end, one that’s true to the characters and emotionally satisfying for them and the audience at the same time. The best praise I can give the movie is this. It’s not a movie about old people; it’s a movie about people for whom age is just one aspect of their characters, and, with a little rewriting could easily have been made about 30- or 40-year-olds. In My Dreams is a movie you’ll want to be wide awake when you see it in order to fully enjoy it.  

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I'll See You in My Dreams (2015) on IMDb