No, this isn’t the old Gus Kahn biopic with Danny Thomas. In fact, though it has a song in it called “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” it’s not the Gus Kahn song. This I’ll See You in My Dreams is a gentle, sweet romantic comedy-drama built around an absolutely luminous 70-something Blythe Danner as 70-something Carol Petersen, a widow who thinks her life is just fine. She has her home, her friends (slightly dysfunctional though they are) and her dog. But when her dog dies and her friends start pushing her to move into their retirement community, she starts to question if it really is all that fine — and even if this is all there is. By now you probably realize that we’re not talking about a great movie, but we are talking about a very good one that achieves its modest — or maybe not so modest — aims. After all, we don’t see all that many romantic comedies featuring 70-year-old characters.
Chances are that I’ll See You in My Dreams will be a minor breakthrough for director and co-writer Brett Haley (his previous feature, The New Year, never received a theatrical release), and a hit with older audiences. Its plot is an interesting mix of the sort of thing you expect in a film like this — including an extended scene where Carol and her friends get high on medical marijuana — and things you probably don’t, like a quasi romance between Carol and her 30-something pool cleaner, Lloyd (Martin Starr). Somewhat surprisingly, they even get a “meet cute” when he finds her asleep on her patio and thinks she might be dead. In fact, she’s actually out there because she was frightened out of her house the night before by a very large, very bold rat (that becomes a kind of running gag). The two hit it off, end up drinking rather a lot of wine together, and drift into a vague plan to go to a karaoke night — he’s an aspiring songwriter and she was once a singer.
At about the same time — following a disastrous bout of speed-dating (one of her prospects informs her he doesn’t mind if she gives him herpes) — she finds herself being courted by the more “age appropriate” Bill (Sam Elliott), who is completely smitten with Carol. He’s also charming and wealthy and unattached (in fact, he has no family). Carol, on the other hand, has a family — a daughter, Katherine (Malin Akerman), who is coming for a visit. What happens is a pleasant, not terribly surprising, mix of comedy, romance and even some heartbreak.
There are moments of pure delight here. Carol’s show-stopping (well, karaoke show-stopping) rendition of “Cry Me a River” is a singularly choice moment. Actually, most of her scenes with Lloyd and Bill are kind of special and ring true, as does the time she spends with her daughter. I won’t say that her scenes with her friends are in any way a let-down, but they tend to be the most ordinary things in the film. The fact that her friends are played by Mary Kay Place, June Squibb and Rhea Perlman — as, respectively, the would-be promiscuous one, the dotty one and the sour one — helps smooth this over. As filmmaking, I’ll See You in My Dreams is hardly earth-shaking. Haley’s style is professional but subdued. I only noticed one particularly noteworthy composition (involving a vase of daisies). The approach is, however, effective for this movie, which is neither big, nor showy. In fact, I might go so far as to say it’s just right. Rated PG – 13 for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas.