There is such a thing as “being too alone”.
Even though her husband’s been dead for nearly 20 years, Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) hasn’t ever really tried to find a replacement of any sorts. Though she has her dog, Carol’s been quite happy to be by herself and not have to worry about another person in her life that may, or may not, stick around any longer. One day, however, Carol’s dog tragically passes-away, which leaves her all alone, once again. This time, however, Carol feels as though it’s time to make a change and actually start hanging around people. There’s the pool-boy (Martin Starr), who comes around not to just check-up on the pool, but to also hang with Carol because he can’t get past the fact that she was, at one point in her life, this awesome songstress. And then, there’s Bill (Sam Elliott), a fellow older-person who is instantly attracted to Carol and wants everything to do with her. Though he comes on a bit strong, Carol believes that he’s the one that she can spend the rest of her life with. But Carol’s personal issues come into play and it isn’t before long that she soon realizes that maybe she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, even though she’s already lived plenty of it so far.
I’ll See You In My Dreams is the kind of teeny, tiny indie that I love to see. It’s one that I assume is going to be a good watch because of how many people say it is, but when I actually get down to watching it, I’m totally surprised. What seems like a movie made for older-people to laugh, cry and relate to, actually works for anybody who decides to view it; loss is a universal feeling that anyone can feel, no matter who or what may be lost. That’s why it was all the more shocking when I realized that I’ll See You In My Dreams doesn’t seem to fall for any of the annoying conventions and cliches that we normally expect these kinds of movies to fall in.
For instance, Martin Starr’s character seems like he’s written just so that he can play the younger-apple-of-the-much-older-protagonist’s eye, which, in a way, he sort of is, but co-writer/director Brett Haley and writer Marc Basch are a lot smarter than that. Instead, they make this character seem a little more aimless and sad than you’d expect, therefore, it makes sense as to why he would want to hang around someone who is almost four decades older than him. Maybe he wants to have something of a romantic relationship with her, maybe he doesn’t, but either way, it’s interesting to see how each and every one of their scenes play out, especially since they don’t always go to, or end up places you’d expect them to originally.
And that’s the magic of life; things don’t always go down quite the way you want, or expect them to. Curve-balls can get thrown into your way and it’s up to how you, yourself can get past them and move on to make yourself better.
Which is why it’s really interesting to see how the character of Carol handles loneliness in a way that most movies don’t like to portray: Which is, “hey, I’m doing just fine.” Most movies in this same vein would show Carol as being a miserable, lifeless and angry old lady who wants a man in her life, but at the same time, can’t seem to get along with one well enough to where she could fulfill that need. Instead, here, Carol’s shown as being a very mild, well-manner and easy-going gal that’s been on her own for quite some time and seems perfectly fine with that. Does that mean she doesn’t want something of a companion in her life? No, she definitely wouldn’t mind one, but at the same time, she isn’t necessarily seeking one to make her life feel more fulfilling and happy.
Although her gal-pals (played perfectly by June Squibb, Rhea Pearlman, and Mary Kay Place) all get on her case for not trying to get a man, she shoos them off and does what she wants. However, when she does start to get a person in her life, romantically, in the form of Bill, the movie doesn’t seem like it’s back-tracking and trying to make itself into more of a conventional rom-com. That Bill himself was the one who actually approached Carol and asked her out in the first place, already shows that the movie isn’t trying to make Carol into some sort of love-sick fool, for some odd reason.
It should be noted that Sam Elliott does a wonderful job as Bill, because he seems like a genuinely charming, nice guy. However, there is a certain odd flavor to the way his character acts on certain dates with Carol that makes you wonder if he’s already too smitten with Carol, or is just using her as a life achievement of his own personal pleasure. Clearly, he’s a nice guy and doe seem to have feelings for Carol, but how genuine they may be, is constantly up in the air and it’s what keeps their scenes together exciting, as well as compelling to watch and listen to, even in the smallest detail.
And while I’m at it, it should be definitely noted that Blythe Danner, finally getting her own chance to shine in a movie of her own, is perfect here.
Danner is perfect for this role as Carol, because she says so much, without saying anything at all. Because Carol herself doesn’t always say what she wants, or in ways, just refuses to do so, already speaks volumes to Danner’s skill as an actress; we don’t always know what Carol is thinking or feeling at any given time, but we know that there’s definitely something going on in her mind that we want to hear about and see. That’s why Danner, who is always lovely to see in anything, works this character in so many wonderful ways, that we’re able to see all sorts of layers to her than just what’s presented. Sure, you can most definitely chalk a lot of that up to writing, but Danner is most definitely the main reason why Carol’s more interesting to watch, even when it seems like she’s doing nothing at all.
Heck! She’s a lot more interesting than some of the girls my same age that I know!
Consensus: With a rare, but wonderful lead performance from Blythe Danner, I’ll See You In My Dreams is a small, but sweet tale that sees the typical conventions a story like this could fall for, and avoids them at every step.
8.5 / 10