“You don’t need all them. Just right the way you are.”
Throughout I’ll See You in My Dreams, a short and sweet and honest movie about love lost and love found, we get answers to questions we didn’t even think to ask. The anticipation and foresight are spot-on. Like so many little movies, it also gets in over its head. Introducing characters who leave no lasting impression. Placing our captivating lead in situations and environments which fail to tell us anything about her. Thinking back on it, the film accomplishes a rare feat, something that most likely propels it to being as enjoyable as it is. And that is concerning its bland scenarios filled with rich, revealing dialogue. Typically films don’t flow that way. I’ll See You… rests a bit on its laurels, but also takes advantage of its subliminal approach to storytelling. As such, sometimes we need more, others we need less. To step above these problems speaks volumes to its two wonderful performances.
Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) defines herself by her past while blindly and barely living in her numbing present. She golfs, plays cards with her social circle in the retirement community. Happy hour starts whenever boredom kicks in. Carol was a singer and a wife, both being titles she feels she did not get to wear long enough. Early on the story paces along with the slow monotony of her now. Wake up, fall asleep, repeat till ya’ die. The beginning is rather futile, and that proves the power of Danner’s performance. Carol even has to put her dog down within the first five minutes. THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES! Everything she has, save for her daughter, has left her behind. And in that scene, Danner does some of the best, most emotionally invested acting you’ll see this year. Her daughter Gwyneth may be the household name, but let’s not forget where she got her talent from. Some critics are calling Lily Tomlin’s work in Grandma Oscar-worthy. I say nuh-uh. My bets would be on Danner, a quiet talent deserving of some long-awaited recognition. She’s a widow herself, and in a few scenes she doesn’t even appear to be acting. These moments have touched and changed her own life. Personal pain carefully washes over her eyes.
Danner really is spectacular here, even in a heavy story weighed down by extraneous anchors. There’s a storyline with her pool boy Lloyd (Martin Starr) that is completely ineffective and misguided. By the time they mutually depart, following a forceful moment as on the nose as a blind woodpecker, you’ll be glad. Lloyd does little to nothing to the story, or to Carol for that matter. Her bridge partners and fellow contemplative lushes really don’t have arcs either. We’ve met these women before, probably in a midday trip to the mall, bustling by with powerwalking strides and days old gossip, getting away with using old coupons for fun and for sport. They come and go with ease. Thankfully, as a blessing in plain disguise, a man living in the community asks her out to lunch. His name is Bill (Sam Elliott), and he’s the kind of 70 something man women blush over. Elliott has one of cinema’s all-time great deliveries. Slow, stubborn, methodical. He means what he says. The words, “I don’t like being alone” don’t mean much, but from the mouth of Elliott you feel the years he spent coming to that conclusion. The effect of his performance and his presence gives life to a movie sorely lacking range outside of Carol.
Directed and co-written by Brett Haley, I’ll See You… confronts growing old without the expected wisdom that comes with age. Many scenes that should penetrate instead keep us at bay. Haley seems to have a knack for being behind the camera though, and just when you think the film is turning for the worse, he reminds us of its path without using words. His play with identical camera shots and background/foreground information are evidence enough in his understanding of the medium. With time his artistic eye should meet a more streamlined and driven script. As a film, I’ll See You in My Dreams lacks the sophistication to be great, but its perception allows it to be very good. Despite that, we realize something because of Danner’s dedication and devotion to her performance. Somewhere out there in a well maintained coastal community, surrounded by seniors desperately seeking refuge from the slavery of time, is a lonely woman like Carol. I hope that she sees this movie, and that others do as well.
“It’s bittersweet. You don’t want them to suffer. But you can’t let them go.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5