I’ll See You in My Dreams. A movie by Brett Haley. Starring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott.
I’ll See You in My Dreams is yet another oldster movie (they’re taking over the art houses; stock in some Chardonnay), and concerns an older woman who has been widowed for twenty years, has never been interested in remarrying and has created a perfectly happy life, and suddenly runs into Mr. Right. Things don’t then go as planned, but the movie makes a valid point: not all oldsters are pining away for a partner even though they’re alone. Some are perfectly content.
I already know know this character. She was my mother, played in her life by herself. She was widowed in 1965, never so much as had a date for 18 years, then in 1987 married the widower of her best friend, who had just died. They were then married for 22 years before he died of a stroke. She lasted a few more years, complicated by various health problems but not without moments of happiness, before she died at 94.
I saw how she built a life for herself. She raised my younger brother in the old house until he went off to college, then moved into an apartment in Pittsburgh’s university neighborhood. She got a job she’d done before—office manager for a physician—but reserved one afternoon a week for her bowling league, which she attended avidly. (She was a petite woman and used a light ball, but rolled some astonishing scores.) She kept up with her children and grandchildren, also cultivated a group of women friends, who got together for bridge and looked out for each other. She had a busy, active life and never showed interest in another man, joked with me a couple of times about guys who asked her out. Then her best friend died, and when I got the news in a letter I turned to my wife and said, “I bet she marries him,” meaning the woman’s husband. Sure enough, she did.
Blythe Danner in this movie also has a group of cronies, played by the great character actresses June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place; central casting couldn’t have done better. We see these women at their weekly bridge game, and hear their banter. It’s hard to demonstrate on screen what a group of friends like that means to each other, and the film doesn’t do much of a job, but at least it tries. They’re hoping to get Carol—Blythe’s character—to move into their assisted living facility, but she still prefers the house where she lived with her husband, though it seems a lot to take care of.
She does go to an occasion of speed dating at the place, and that just seems stupid, an occasion to show how selfish and clueless most men are, how right she is not to be interested. There’s a scene where the four friends get stoned on medical marijuana, and that is hilarious, but it’s a kind of set piece that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie; it could have been a Saturday Night Live skit.
There are also some scenes where Carol interacts with the nebbishy young man who cleans her pool, a would-be songwriter played by Martin Starr. There are several occasions when they’re hanging around drinking wine in the afternoon—pool cleaners do such things?—and we wonder if they’re going to jump into bed. He seems so adrift, and there he is with this still beautiful woman, who apparently hasn’t gotten laid for 20 years. They have one great scene together, when they go to a bar to sing karaoke. He does this often, is very enthusiastic, and always picks the same song, which he sings dreadfully. It’s painful and embarrassing. Then she sings “Cry Me a River” and knocks the audience out. I don’t know if Blythe Danner has been a singer in the past—she’s one of those actresses whose name is familiar, but I don’t know her work—but she has a great voice, really puts that song over.
In order to do that, however, she had to drink a glass of wine at her house, a beer at the bar, then an appletini (whatever that is) at the bar; I wasn’t sure she’d make it to the mike. For that matter, what happy person has an afternoon glass of wine with the pool guy, and in various scenes that show her daily life, that glass of wine is uncomfortably ubiquitous; there is at least one, perhaps two scenes that show her sipping in bed at night before she goes to sleep. Carol’s dog has just died, a traumatic event for her, and maybe she’s hitting the bottle more than usual.
But I don’t buy that this is a happy fulfilled woman. Other than her weekly bridge game, and conversations with the pool guy, I don’t know what she does with herself. She quit her job as a teacher—which she wasn’t wild about—after her husband died, has been living since then off his life insurance. That was one hell of a policy. The film means for her to be a fulfilled person, but doesn’t convince me.
And then she meets Sam Elliott, who is great looking, charming, rich, everything the speed dating guys were not. Of course they’ll get together, of course he’ll sweep her off her feet; he even has a yacht, which he takes her out on for the first date. He too boozes it up at all hours of the day. They have something in common! The girls seem to get pretty tanked at the weekly bridge game. This is starting to look like a Charles Bukowski screenplay.
So the best looking man in the history of the movies gets together with the best looking woman. Or something like that. We’ve hardly seen Sam when he wasn’t sitting astride a horse, but as soon as he shows up in the movie we know what’s going to happen, as sure as this thing was made in Hollywood. Why doesn’t one of the other women find Mr. Right, one of the schlumpy guys from speed dating? Why couldn’t Rhea Perlman get together with somebody, or June Squibb? Why couldn’t everything be awkward, and difficult, and funny?
They succeed in bed; we know because they’re lying on their backs with big smiles on their faces. They really look good. Their beautiful gray hair isn’t even messed up. (By the way, with that mane of gray hair, why does Sam have jet black eyebrows?) There is, incidentally, a German film entitled Cloud 9 in which German oldsters actually do get it on, reveal their ugly naked bodies, show the awkwardness, everything. It’s simultaneously fascinating and terrifying.
What happens after that actually is a surprise, not the Hollywood ending we were waiting for, but it would spoil everything for me to go into detail. Malin Ackerman shows up playing Carol’s daughter, and she’s another real babe, but of course Carol would have a good-looking daughter. Danner has some strong emotional scenes toward the end, when they give her material with substance. And there’s a marvelously charming scene at the end where the pool guy shows up again and sings a song for Carol. He turns out to be a wonderful songwriter, though still a dreadful singer. But during the credits, as I hoped they would, they got somebody good to sing it. The final twenty minutes of the movie go a long way toward redeeming the whole thing.
But first they’ve got to convince me first this woman is contented. And I still say: does the lead couple have to be so good looking? Why is it always the football captain and the head cheerleader? How about the water boy and the girl who always had her face in a book?
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