Aging woman carries the show in ‘See You in My Dreams’
It’s always a refreshing change to see an entire movie built around a female character. Especially if that character is a woman of a certain age. (And especially a woman played by somebody other than Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep, as fabulous as both of them usually are.) There are plenty of veteran actresses capable of carrying a film, if only given the chance, and one of them proves to be Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams, a wistful comedy with romantic overtones written for her by filmmaker Brett Haley.
A versatile actress who has been busy in movies and TV since the 1970s, Danner has never really had one signature role; she’s been good in lots of smaller roles over the years. These days, she may be best known as the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Haley and co-scripter Marc Basch concoct a character vaguely based on Danner’s situation, a widow living in Los Angeles, with a background in show business. If some plot elements fall into place a bit too easily, and the story has a somewhat elitist feel, the actors are fun to watch, and even the attempt to tell a story from a woman’s viewpoint is appreciated.
Carol Petersen (Danner) is a widow living alone with her trusty old dog in a nice house in the L.A. suburbs. She lost her husband in a plane crash 20 years ago, and her grown daughter has been out of the house for years. She enjoys her daily routines—reading the paper, drinking Chardonnay, and playing bridge and golf with her girlfriends, three other widows (Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, and Mary Kay Place), who all have nice little apartments in a retirement community nearby.
But when Carol has to say goodbye to her beloved dog, she starts to get the restless feeling that her life may be missing something. She knows she’s not yet ready to move into the retirement community—especially not after her friends coerce her into attending a speed-dating event among the resident widows and widowers, with results as unfortunate as you might imagine. But she does strike up an unexpected friendship with Lloyd (Martin Starr), the new guy who comes to clean her pool.
Far from the stereotypical “pool boy,” 30-something Lloyd has recently returned to the area to take care of his elderly mother. Between jobs and relationships, Lloyd is a would-be songwriter who’s thrilled to learn Carol was once in a folk-singing group in Greenwich Village. He persuades her to come out with him to a karaoke bar late one night, (“Nowadays, people go out late and don’t have jobs,” he explains dryly), where she wows the crowd with her bluesy vocal on “Cry Me A River.”
Meanwhile, she meets Bill (Sam Elliott), a ruggedly handsome silver fox who begins courting her the old-fashioned way. He asks for her number, and invites her to a lunch he prepares for her on his boat in the marina. You just know that in any movie in which a mature woman meets a guy who looks like Sam Elliott, sparks are destined to fly—and they do, in a very satisfying way. But to Haley’s credit, neither of these subplots play out quite the way we expect.
Still, this is a story of privilege that doesn’t feel as universal as it might. Carol’s house comes complete with a tastefully maintained succulent garden and a pool no one ever uses. (Her late husband was a lawyer.) And her friends’ retirement community, with its golf course, is not exactly low-income housing. It’s not that the characters’ dilemmas are any less real (not that they have many dilemmas), but the setting feels a trifle insular.
But the movie has its merits, and Carol’s friendship with the deadpan Lloyd is a particularly nice touch. And Danner, with her wry, slightly crooked grin and sense of humor, puts a face on the idea of aging with grace and spirit.
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS
With Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, Sam Elliott, and Rhea Perlman. Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch. Directed by Brett Haley. A Bleecker Street Media release. Rated PG-13. 95 minutes. PHOTO: Blythe Danner in Brett Haley’s wistful comedy ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams.’