Throughout our lives there are going to be moments that will break our hearts. It’s going to happen, guaranteed. It might be the moment you lose the job you’ve always wanted; perhaps it’s that time when you realize your child is no longer a child and suddenly you’re an empty-nester; or maybe it’s the passing of a beloved animal. Depending on character and life experiences, each will handle things in a different way.
In the new drama from director Brett Haley, I’ll See You in My Dreams, Carol (Blyth Danner) appears to be aging with grace. Now a widow but still living at her tidy and very well kept home, the former singer has found satisfaction in routine. There’s bridge with the girlfriends over at the retirement home, a little gardening here and there, a regular glass of wine or two, sometimes three, and time shared with her devoted and aging yellow lab, Hazel, who follows Carol everywhere. They even watch late night TV together; Carol sits up in bed while Hazel sprawls out across the covers, both staring at the screen. But Hazel is fourteen, and even though we don’t know the details, Carol finds herself faced with the heartbreak of having to put Hazel to sleep. If that’s happened to you then you’ll know only too well how empty Carol feels the morning after, sitting alone in a quiet house, a glass of wine in hand, wondering what she should do next.
Her card-playing girlfriends, the lively trio of Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squib, encourage her to move in to the retirement home with them. “You’re missing out on all the action,” Perlman’s Sally tells Carol, and even though Carol might be looking for something, giving up her independent home-life is not one of them.
But things move a little for Carol. She may be alone, but companionship in one way or another is still a possibility, even if she’s not really trying, and for her – sassy girlfriends aside – new found friendship will come in two forms.
One is the replacement pool guy, Lloyd (a deadpan Martin Starr) who enjoys wine, karaoke and good company – “You’re a good drinking buddy,” Lloyd tells her – and then there’s the smiling, confident and altogether brazen Bill (Sam Elliot) who simply declares with a huge grin while chomping on an unlit cigar, “I want lunch with you.” The first time Carol meets Bill is while she’s perusing the shelves at a health store. Appearing out of nowhere, he suddenly declares in a deep-graveled voice that could sell you a Dodge Ram, “You don’t need all that. You’re just right the way you are.”
There’s not a lot more to I’ll See You in My Dreams in terms of narrative. Carol’s daughter Katherine (Malin Akerman) appears during the latter scenes and is with her mom when Carol receives a call that will cause another of life’s heartbreaks. Given the outline you may be mistaken in thinking that director Haley’s film is nothing other than an exploration of life’s disappointments, but that’s not the full picture. With a lot of warm humor and the occasional big laugh, Dreams is buoyed by good performers playing likeable characters. When Carol is observed sharing time with the younger pool guy, Lloyd, Rona (Mary Kay Place) tells Carol, “You’re a cougar and I’m proud of you.” And when the ladies share some afternoon medical weed from a vapor machine – no smell – instead of going for the more obvious, easy laughs of watching old biddies getting stoned for the first time, they sit and listen to the relaxing sounds of Groovin’ by The Young Rascals. The image is hilarious.
The real pleasure, however, is watching Blythe Danner who here is given the opportunity of taking the lead. With warmth and good humor, watching Danner serves as a reminder of how much we never realized we missed her. Her scenes with both Martin Starr and the charismatic Elliot have a relaxed, easy-going and natural quality to them. Whether her character remains with one or the other is hardly the point. The real fun with I’ll See You in My Dreams is the enjoyment of spending a little quality time with these people. And when you think about it, in her twilight years, that’s all Carol is really looking for, too.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)