Friday, October 09, 2015

I'll See You in My Dreams

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (Brett Haley, 2015)

Retired widow Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) likely still has plenty of good years ahead of her in I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, but she seems resigned to being on a slow, uneventful march to the end even though it’s been twenty years since her husband died in an accident. Carol’s friends encourage her to move out of her house and join them in the retirement community. They also try to persuade her to go out with men again, an idea she begrudgingly humors at a disastrous speed dating event, but she prefers to keep her own place and ignore potential romantic possibilities.

Then out of the blue two men with whom she enjoys spending time pursue her company. Carol’s new pool cleaner Lloyd (Martin Starr) is intrigued that she was once a singer before settling into a career as a teacher. Although he’s a few decades younger than her, Lloyd identifies her as a kindred spirit drifting through daily life. Bill (Sam Elliott) is a charismatic new resident at the retirement village who takes a shine to Carol the first time he lays eyes on her. He possesses a palpable charm that attracts Carol despite her insistence that she doesn’t want to get remarried.

I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS is foremost a performance-driven film, and Danner makes a good anchor. She plays Carol as someone who can acknowledge the good things life has given her while feeling cheated that fate hasn’t always been kind. As Bill observes, there’s a bitterness at the core of Carol, even if it’s not a quality not necessarily on view at all times. Danner molds Carol into someone who is independent and, by all appearances, strong yet has a wounded nature that makes the character cautious. When she sings at karaoke and connects with the guys wooing her, she makes the hurt disappear.

Elliott maximizes his limited scenes with Danner, projecting the satisfaction and confidence that Carol often lacks. Bill has mystery about him just like she does, but Elliott doesn’t wear it like a shield. His rambunctious appeal leaves no question why Carol might take notice of him. As her younger love interest, Starr presents Lloyd as a mirror to her. The pull they feel toward each other comes from spotting their similarities, particularly in how they express themselves.There’s plenty stated and unsaid between them, and their awkwardness only gets in the way when they stop being in the moment.

Director and co-writer Brett Haley has a soft touch for letting items represent other things. A shot of flowers in the foreground perhaps elicits a stronger emotional response than if the characters involved shared the frame. Bill’s omnipresent unlit cigar is just a cigar, although it stands in for how he is approaching life at this later stage. The rat that lurks around Carol’s home is a regular reminder of the grief she still has not been able to eliminate from her surroundings. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS provides a funny and moving glimpse of a slice of life that the recipient would rather trade for a different one.

Grade: B

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