With today’s ever-increasing focus on chasing after younger demographics, there’s something welcome about seeing films featuring actors of a certain age in leading roles in films. Upstart studio Bleecker Street showed promise earlier this year with Al Pacino in Danny Collins, and they do it again with the likable I’ll See You in My Dreams, headed by Blythe Danner.
Danner plays Carol Petersen, a woman in her seventies who’s been retired since her husband’s untimely passing two decades earlier. Carol’s day-to-day routine has long been established, but it’s shaken up after her beloved dog is put down. In the hands of a lesser actress, this scene alone could be enough to sink the entire film, but Danner sells the emotions of saying goodbye to her longtime companion so well, she elevates the material.
The film is structured loosely on Carol finding her bearings in life after this incident, and it’s mostly content to just let Danner and her co-stars loose. Carol’s story revolves around various relationships she either has already or forms. The most established relationships involve her trio of pals living in a senior home (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place), as well as Carol’s relationship with her daughter, Katherine. Carol also strikes up a friendship with Lloyd (Martin Starr), an aspiring musician who cleans pools for a living. Finally, there’s Bill (Sam Elliott), a retiree with a self-assured presence who opens up Carol to the idea of romance in her later years.
Each of these supporting characters help open up Carol’s world. Bill in particular adds a spark to the film, with a swagger reminiscent of an Earth-bound Han Solo in his 70s (or basically, today’s Harrison Ford in a less grouchy mode). But ultimately, Carol – and Danner – are the center of this film, a point highlighted when Bill is rather suddenly sidelined. The decision to not make the film about the romance between Carol and Bill pulls the film away from stumbling into cliché, but also takes out the most interesting relationship of Carol’s in the film. It’s left to Danner to carry the rest of the film, and to her credit, she does so remarkably. If for no other reason, I’ll See You in My Dreams is worth a viewing just for Danner’s underrated talent.