Film Reviews

MISE EN SEAN – <i>I’ll See You in My Dreams</i> (2015)

MISE EN SEAN – I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015)

Sean Hanson

June 12th, 2015

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On the surface, I’ll See You in My Dreams is a short, slight movie about getting older, 92 minutes long and absent the punchlines of The Golden Girls, the giddiness of Cocoon, or the sheer devastation of Amour. That might sound like a criticism, but it’s actually a strength: I’ll See You in My Dreams fills that void with melancholy dramatic moments of great subtlety and sly jokes that blindside you, delivered by an unusual, memorable, likable cast.

It’s also not simply about getting older. It may focus on Carol (Blythe Danner), a retired schoolteacher and one-time musician who decides to make some small, meaningful changes to ease her loneliness in the wake of her dog’s death, but it also explores her burgeoning friendship with her poolboy, Lloyd (Martin Starr), a one-time poetry major and occasional musician who, at 33, feels the same dead-end aimlessness as his 72-year-old client. Lloyd sees a picture of her performing as part of a folk duo, taken decades before she started doing nothing and drinking earlier, and asks if she’d like to join him for some karaoke.

She accepts.

A wine enthusiast, Carol tries a Modelo, and then an appletini, and after Lloyd flat-notes his way through “I Think We’re Alone Now,” perhaps unironically, she gets on stage and sings publicly for the first time in years. This reignites some long-extinguished spark, and she begins taking more chances, especially with Bill (Sam Elliott), a widower who has taken an interest in Carol, whose other misadventures in dating — including speed-dating — have proven disastrous. When her best friends join her for their daily bridge game, Carol asks if they’d like to … well, I don’t want to spoil the best jokes in the movie.

The cast is predictably fantastic. I have a strange attachment to Blythe Danner, who starred in one of my favorite Tales from the Crypt episodes way back in 1992, but Sam Elliott is still Sam Elliott, Martin Starr plays the most fully developed character of his career, and Rhea Perlman makes me wonder why she isn’t getting more roles. Sure, her character — like most of her characters — is yet another shade of Carla from Cheers, but her comic timing is as sharp as ever. Malin Akerman, as Carol’s daughter, is given suspiciously little to do, as if her scenes didn’t quite make it to the final cut, but otherwise, the actors give an otherwise melancholy film a certain warm glow, much like Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton did a couple weeks ago in 5 Flights Up. They could carry a film over any obstacle.

This is only co-writer/director Brett Haley’s second film, and while the broad strokes of the screenplay are certainly nothing original, how it all comes together speaks to a sort of un-showy thoughtfulness. You might be able to guess where the plot is headed, based strictly on the film’s tone, but Haley shows his cleverness in how it gets there, how Carol carves her own path to something approaching contentment, and how the film ends — not with a bang, but a whimper. It may seem anticlimactic, but Haley shows a great respect for his screenplay’s themes by bringing it to anticlimax.

Is this film like nothing you’ve ever seen before? No, but it’s not quite like anything you’ve ever seen before, and it’s those little variations put it ahead of its predecessors. And Carol’s costuming sort of reflects that: she never wears gaudy clothes, but the costume designer uses color and negative space to make sure she always stands out from a crowd. It’s a wonderful little touch in a wonderful little film.

I’ll See You in My Dreams begins its run at the Bijou Art Cinemas. Click here for showtimes.

Sean Hanson is a Eugene film critic whose work has been published by Something Awful and Front Row Central. Mise en Sean, despite being a terrible pun, is an irregular column in which he provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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