Our attraction to the movies starts from simple building blocks, such as a face, a heart-wrenching separation, a pratfall. But here are two simple pleasures I defy anyone to argue against: Blythe Danner’s and Sam Elliott’s speaking voices.
Both instruments are showcased in the modest heartwarmer “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” To reiterate what others have already noted, it’s stupidly uncommon for an American indie (let alone a better-funded studio project) to give a proper shot to an actress like Danner. I fell for her sometime around “Hearts of the West” in 1975, so there’s my disclosure. That distinctive speaking voice of hers has lent sandpapery wit and impish class to so many supporting roles of varying qualities over the years, it’s a relief — even though the movie isn’t much — to see Danner in a leading role on screen again.
She plays Carol, a retired and widowed schoolteacher who lives a comfortable, routine life in Los Angeles. Her husband has been gone 20 years, and her bridge-playing pals, portrayed by June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place, urge her to get back in the game. Right on cue, the game begins when a sly, cigar-chomping fellow pulls up alongside Carol in his car and asks her out. Elliott plays Bill, and though the narrative tosses a significant complication into an initially tentative romance, moment-to-moment things happen the way you suspect.
This will hardly prevent the film’s likely target audience from enjoying itself. Older folks still go to the movies, yet they have to search pretty hard most weeks to find anything that deals with issues, themes and performers of a certain age. The actors are terrific. It’s too bad, though, that co-writer, editor and director Brett Haley settles for so little.
Carol’s unlikely friendship with her slacker pool attendant (Martin Starr) provides Danner’s character with a necessary sounding board, but necessity in this case isn’t the mother of invention.
This is one of those scripts that might have been more interesting a couple of drafts ago, before the detours were closed off. And yet, when Danner’s Carol shares scenes with Elliott’s calmly determined suitor, there’s considerable charm in the results. Both leading performers have eased, beautifully, into their early 70s. As “I’ll See You in My Dreams” reminds us, Danner and Elliott are masters in the art of turning ordinary material into little bits of truth and life.
I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS
**1/2 out of 5
Cast: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place.
Director: Brett Haley.
Running time: 1:32.
Rating: PG-13, for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language.