MOVIE REVIEW: I'll See You In My Dreams

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Hollywood loves youth and age ranks as currency in that town and business.  It seems that when former "It Girl" actresses hit the age of 40 (let alone 50, 60, or 70), more and more doors start to close for them.  Even the esteemed Oscar winner Meryl Streep, the best actress of this and several generations before now, as eclectic and talented as she is, does not command A-list level attention the way say Jennifer Lawrence does now.  Meryl has to blaze her own trail and champion different roles to show just how good she is and always will be.

At 65 now, Streep, in many ways, is the face of the underserved, senior-aged moviegoing audience.  Not too many films come along tailor-made for that demographic, even fewer romances, and even scarcer good ones.  The "Hope Springs" with Streep and "Something's Gotta Give" with Diane Keaton of the world are too far and few between.  Too often, we are stuck with the likes of "And So It Goes" or "Last Vegas" with Michael Douglas and weak humor.  

It's a shame too because none of that talent over the age of 40 has gotten worse.  If anything, they've honed their craft and waited for the right time to blossom once again.  For the long-lost, 72-year-old Blythe Danner, the new film "I'll See You in My Dreams," an audience favorite from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is a chance for her to emerge behind the "mom" roles from films like the "Meet the Parents" series and TV's "Will and Grace."  To too many of this generation, she's simply Gwyneth Paltrow's mother.  She rightly shows us more chops and talent than that in this film.

Her performance as Carol Peterson is worth the price of admission to Brett Haley's little independent film and feature film debut.  As a widow going on her 20th year departed from her late husband, Carol is your seemingly typical middle/upper-class retiree in southern California.  She's got her comfortable Pottery Barn house, complete with a soothing backyard pool, a trusty dog, and perfectly manicured flowers to water.  Carol herself is adorned with the fashionable hats, scarves, wine, salads, and golf that make her the independent and active woman among her peers that are all resigned to the gossipy scene of the local senior living center.  She's got her inner circle trio of girlfriends that she meets over cards and drinks at the senior home played by "Nebraska" scene-stealer June Squibb and former Emmy winners Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place.  

What isn't typical is what we see when the superficial layers are peeled back from Carol during the course of the film, where the camera rarely leaves her presence.  Her dog has to be put to sleep at the beginning of the film and that triggers a new level of loneliness that Carol has rarely felt.  She has always stayed alone on purpose and values her uncomplicated independence.  Her grown adult daughter Katherine (Malin Akerman) lives on the other side of the country as is an occasional phone call of pleasantries and an even rarer visitor.  She wants no one new and has never dated, despite the pushy insistence of her girlfriends to get back in the romance game.

After the loss of her dog, she finds two intriguing kindred spirits that bring an unexpected spark to her life.  The first is the lowly pool boy Lloyd (second-billed Judd Apatow product Martin Starr), who grinds out this job as a starving artist poet and songwriter that isn't good enough to get anywhere.  He learns of Carol's history as a singer during the 1960's Greenwich Village scene, becomes inspired, and maybe even a little smitten towards her.  The other spark is entirely less subtle, in the form of Sam Elliott's cigar-chomping Bill, a fellow well-off retiree who has no family or use of his money.  Armed with a boat, a Mercedes, and all kinds of swagger and confidence (Come on, it's Sam F'n Elliott!), Bill courts and coaxes Carol into giving dating a try.

There is a central moment where "I'll See You in My Dreams" hits a tremendous artist peak of displayed beauty.  That moment is when Carol invites herself to karaoke with Lloyd.  After mulling over the chance, Blythe Danner steps up to the mic and soulfully belts out a rendition of Julie London's "Cry Me a River" that will leave you speechless.  Recently, this website referenced Carey Mulligan's similar showstopping singing from 2011's "Shame" when discussing her draw and appeal in "Far from the Madding Crowd."  Danner's scene hits you as strongly as Mulligan's.  Those blue eyes!  Through song, you feel every ounce of Carol's fragile, yet passionate balance between independence and loneliness.  You see what she was and what she could still be.  

Danner's solo is a dynamite moment that the rest of the film cannot match.  Marketed with that song (especially in the trailer) as more of a romantic comedy than anything else, "I'll See You in My Dreams" is far more drama than comedy.  The few good comedic elements are all spoiled by the trailer and they don't fit the rest of the film and its weighty take on mortality and love at an advanced age.  They detract from the heft of what could have been a bigger or bolder dramatic statement or a fuller and more involving romance.  Sam Elliott's classic coolness picks up business well.  That man can deliver a kiss and mean it, but there's not enough of him and Danner and her sophistication can only hold up so much after that.  Still, even flawed "I'll See You in My Dreams" is a worthy effort to be a viable summer counter-programming option for the adults out there that want to slow down, unwind, and appreciate someone like Blythe Danner that ages like fine wine.  

LESSON #1: KARAOKE IS ALWAYS A GREAT DATE IDEA-- Gentlemen, add this date idea to your repertoire immediately.  Both ladies and gents, be free on the mic and own it.  You've seen "My Best Friend's Wedding."  It's wonderful, both good or bad in performance.  Your go-to karaoke song says a great deal about you.  Even if neither of you on the date are good singers, enjoy the rush, laugh together, embrace the overcoming of fear, and do it with someone in the same boat who's not afraid to either impress you or look like a fool with you.  Do it.  Go out and sing karaoke with someone immediately.  

LESSON #2: GOOD PEOPLE WORRY-- Sometimes worrying is considered an emotion of weakness when it really is a sign of conscience and heart.  The people who are capable of worrying know and get how precious life, time, people, or the moment is that they are worrying about.  Those people know and understand what it would be like to not have what you could miss.  There is a level of selfishness and ambivalence within those that don't worry when they probably should.  Carol, as a parent, a widow, and now a senior at the end of her life, knows all about worry and it grounds her as a good person.  It's a pulse check for her where she knows all is not lost.

LESSON #3: FEELING INCOMPLETENESS IN RETIREMENT-- Both Carol and Bill feel a sense of non-materialistic incompleteness at their retired stages in life.  Carol, in particular, feels that everything is past tense in her life.  She doesn't live for the moment.  She lives for her past moments.  Her singing days, teaching career, and parenthood years compose the highlights of her biography but all are behind her.  Very little of anything important or meaningful is in the present.  By contrast, Bill has no kids or family history to reflect on or leave his life and legacy to.  From different backgrounds and for different reasons, both Bill and Carol find that romantic companionship is that missing component and briefly get a chance to feel that completeness again.