Memorable cast rises above thin story of golden-years romance
At the outset, I’ll See You in My Dreams looks as though it has plenty of crowd-pleasing potential in at least two ways—as a great latter-day star turn for veteran actress Blythe Danner, and as a mildly rowdy romantic-comedy set among the friskier women and men in and around a cushy retirement community.
This eager-to-please effort by director/editor/co-writer Brett Haley delivers on both counts, but with a little less dramatic follow-through than its several provocative situations would seem to merit. Danner is terrific, but Haley’s script (co-written with Marc Basch) is not. The star and supporting cast are what proves most memorable in this brisk (93 minutes), but oddly scattered comedy-drama.
Danner plays Carol Petersen, a widow and erstwhile folksinger who lives alone in her own spacious home, but socializes regularly with a group of lady friends—Georgina (June Squibb), Sally (Rhea Perlman) and Rona (Mary Kay Place)—all of whom are residents of the neighboring retirement facility.
All four remain alive to at least the possibility of assorted physical and romantic pleasures. And while it’s no great surprise that Carol is the one who attracts special romantic attention, there is something unexpectedly intriguing in the fact that she gets emotionally involved with two very different guys—a wealthy widower and retiree named Bill (Sam Elliott in full drawling dreamboat mode) and a younger fellow named Lloyd (a pensive Martin Starr) who quits his job as Carol’s “pool guy” but keeps coming back to visit.
Elliott’s Bill, with his silver mustache and unlit cigar, seems a little too good to be true. He comes off as a swaggering figure of fantasy, a romance-novel dream lover in the guise of an aging lothario. Quiet, sensitive Lloyd, by contrast, is full of hesitations and self-doubts, even though he’s bold enough to take a distinctly personal interest in Carol.
Lloyd’s unexpected persistence and the sudden, sad twist in Bill’s part of the story pointedly undercut the potential for romantic clichés in Carol’s relationships. But neither of those relationships really deepens our sense of her character, and there’s a growing impression that all three are mainly pawns in a rather arbitrarily organized rondelay of feel-good romance seasoned with dashes of genteel honesty and realism.