A funny, silky-smooth portrait of a woman acquiescing with death in her twilight.
I’ll See You In My Dreams
It’s common, even in the early days of summer, to fall victim to what I like to call “big boom fatigue.” After watching face-melting fireworks displays like Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7 and Mad Max: Fury Road, you’re liable to feel a little exhausted from all the excitement. Sometimes you need a little respite from all the CGI carnage and falling debris, a mild-mannered, quiet movie to act as a sort of counter-balance to all the big-budget noise. For this, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than I’ll See You In My Dreams, a moving, silky-smooth character portrait about an older woman’s private lament of a world passing her by and the beauty of life in twilight. It’s your one-way ticket to summertime serenity.
The film’s keystone is Blythe Danner, whose soft, sophisticated performance will occupy your thoughts for a good long while. She plays Carol, a long-widowed, peacefully retired woman who spends her days drifting around her comfy house and lazing about with Hazel, her ailing dog. When she’s forced to put her canine companion down, her lazing turns lonesome (this happens very early in the movie, but by this point Danner’s already won us over, a testament to her talent). The grief over Hazel’s passing strikes Carol like blunt force trauma, scrambling whatever semblance of stability she had.
Thankfully, Carol’s got human friends, too; three of them, in fact (they’re played by June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place). It’s straight-up Golden Girls status, and it’s awesome. The girlfriends all live in the same retirement community and get together regularly to play bridge and clink glasses of chardonnay. The three supporting characters are just defined enough to build a fun group dynamic, and the actors are courteous to Danner, being mindful about letting their leader lead.
In a funny scene later in the movie, the girls get high on medicinal weed and trek to the grocery store to quell the subsequent case of munchies that grips them. They’re a wild bunch: they get stopped by a police officer a third their age for pushing home a shopping cart full of snacks on the side of the road. They laugh in his face, because they’re badasses. (Yeah…it was the weed at work, too. But still: GRANNIES RULE!)
After some playful coaxing, the girls convince Carol to revisit her romantic pursuits after a years-long dry spell. She’s persuaded to try speed dating, which doesn’t exactly pan out the way she’d have liked. One particularly horny gentlemen (oaf) comes on to her by proudly proclaiming he “doesn’t mind” if she has herpes. Charming! In any case, Carol finds more desirable opportunities for romance out in the real world, away from the procession of gray-haired creepers.
She’s courted by a leather-skinned widower named Bill (Sam Elliott, whose immaculately groomed, snowy broom-stache is all kinds of epic), a heavy-steppin’ cowboy type whose gravelly voice and bracingly direct advances make Carol quiver like an autumn leaf. He’s all but got her heart in his hands, but there’s another guy. A pool guy, to be exact. Lloyd (Martin Starr), a new, younger male presence in Carol’s life, strikes up an unusual relationship with her. One night they go out for some drinks and karaoke, and Carol tears down the house with a ravishing rendition of “Cry Me a River”. The look plastered on Lloyd’s face as she sings is unmistakably one of desire. There’s some kind of spark between them, but writer-director Brett Haley and co-writer Marc Basch don’t ever bring these blurred lines into focus. It’s a smart choice that gives the movie some depth and color. A little goes a long way.
Speaking of Mr. Haley, he’s in his twenties and wrote a movie about an elderly woman’s acquiescence with mortality. Kudos, kudos, kudos (I’m nearly 30 and can’t figure out women my age). He shows good taste, opting for sly, sardonic humor over broad-comedy pandering. The movie never begs you to laugh, or cry, or do anything. It moves us at its own pace, and though some moments feel like cold spots (some of the “Neo-Golden Girls” banter feels protracted and dips into cliché), the story on the whole is gloriously unhurried.
Utmost respect goes to Danner, whose gift is invaluable. She’s got the gentlest touch. Instead of having a rough-and-tumble grappling match with death himself, she leans in and puts her head on his chest. They engage in a sort of slow dance, swaying tearfully to a dirge from the great beyond. Then, she sticks her tongue out as if to say, “Why so serious?” What a treasure. Respect to Haley as well, who with I’ll See You In My Dreams has declared himself a young filmmaker whose vision is anything but ordinary.