Hollywood often has examined the angst and excitement young people face growing up in coming-of-age movies.
“I’ll See You in My Dreams” is a beautiful and smart coming-of-old-age film.
The production from director Brett Haley shows that as people grow older, they too begin to think about the good and bad of life. They are looking at a shorter future, but the emotions of facing those years are just as deep and compelling.
Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) is facing such a moment. She has lived a long life as wife, musician, mother, teacher and friend. The passing of her husband has left her in a routine rut.
She begins to wonder if her remaining years can be spent in a more productive way than just playing a few rounds of golf and cards with her friends.
The problem is that she will have to open herself to emotions that in the past have come with some pain.
Carol gets the courage to try living life differently when she befriends her pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr). He’s the first step to an awakening that even includes dating.
Bill (Sam Elliott) is a charming suitor who helps Carol find new life. But the excitement is short-lived, and Carol must face the harsh realities that come with growing old.
Danner turns in a masterful performance as a woman who has spent years trying to find the safe tempo of life. Signs of hope, fear, uncertainty and joy pour out of Danner in every scene.
It doesn’t matter if she’s paired with a young man who’s looking for a friend, an older man looking for a few happy moments or a group of old friends who have not given up on the zest of life.
Danner rises to meet each pairing with beauty, charm and grace. Her growth never seems forced or rushed.
Starr faced one of the toughest challenges playing the younger man in Carol’s life.
He had to find the right tone of suggesting he might be interested in her in being more than a friend but never to the point this would feel like an updated version of the May-December romance as depicted in “Harold & Maude.”
He finds the right level so that the audience can see him as someone looking for a friend, mentor, mother figure or someone with whom he can be more intimate.
Haley and co-screen writer Marc Basch have found a smooth consistency for the blend of sadness and joy.
They are a little heavy-handed with using a black rat as a metaphor for the bad things that creep into Carol’s life. But that’s a small glitch in what is overall a solid story.
Coming-of-age stories tend to be the forerunner to a life of ups and downs. Examination of life for older people takes on a heavier mantle because decisions are accented by life lessons.
In her darkest moments, Carol begins to doubt that she has had a life well-lived. It’s a moment that will resonate with those who are reaching the later years of their lives.
This all works because Danner embraces the role with a quiet energy and a skittish passion.
It all goes to make the character feel very real and three-dimensional.
“I’ll See You in My Dreams” deals with a lot of questions about life and death. There are no answers; only a suggestion that it’s OK to look back as long as you don’t give up on the possibilities of what lies ahead.
(At Cinetopia, Rio and Studio 28.)
‘I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS’
Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:35