Film review: I’ll See You in My Dreams

David Gritten / 10 February 2016

Saga film critic David Gritten applauds Blythe Danner’s performance in this unsentimental film for and about the over-50s.

There’s no reason why films about older people and aimed at the over-50s should have to be twinkly, sentimental and patronising. But many of them are, which is why it’s so refreshing to find one that resolutely is none of these things.

I’ll See You in My Dreams stars the estimable veteran actress Blythe Danner, who gives a tour de force performance.

She plays Carol, a 70ish woman living in southern California. She has been a widow for 20 years, and was once a singer with a group in New York. She lives a quiet, comfortable, unremarkable existence, but when her beloved pet dog Hazel has to be put down, she starts to consider her life more closely.

It’s pleasant enough – she has a nice house with a pool, and three close female friends (nicely played by veteran actresses June Squibb, Rhea Perlman (from Cheers) and Mary Kay Place), all residents of a nearby retirement community, with whom she plays cards, trades wisecracks and drinks Chardonnay. She pooh-poohs the idea of remarrying.

This doesn’t prevent her having a platonic relationship with her pool cleaner, a slightly hangdog younger man named Lloyd (Martin Starr). And she goes along with it when her trio of pals suggest taking part in a two-minute speed dating event at the retirement home.

Not much happens until Carol meets a charismatic man named Bill (Sam Elliott), who is tan, handsome, virile and dryly funny. He has his own boat, too, which doesn’t hurt. And yes, he’s unattached.

Related: Read our interview with Sam Elliott

You can see the way this story is headed, but director Brett Haley and his co-screenwriter Marc Basch are too smart to pander to audience expectations, and lead the narrative along different paths.

There are some lovely touches here. The chemistry between Danner and Elliott is terrific; they’re a smart, funny, wildly engaging screen couple. 

And there’s a great moment that occurs when Lloyd takes Carol to a local karaoke bar, mostly populated by younger folks who try their hand singing cheesy pop songs. Carol approaches the mike quietly and without fuss starts singing Cry Me A River, the torch song made popular in the 50s by Julie London. Quite apart from the fact that Danner sings it very competently, this is the one scene that conveys the depth of Carol’s feelings.

Blythe Danner, in fact, is a knockout here. She’s been a terrific actress for years now, even if younger generations know her primarily as one of the mothers in the Meet the Parents movies -- and in real life as the mother of one Gwyneth Paltrow.

If there were any justice in the world – and if I’ll See You In My Dreams weren’t such a low-profile, modestly-budgeted movie – Danner would be going to the Oscars this year as a best actress nominee. That’s how good she is.  

Related: Watch our video interview with Blythe Danner

I'll See You in My Dreams is in cinemas 12th February 2016, on digital download February 22, 2016 and on DVD 29th February 2016.

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