Rewind, Review and Re-Rate: ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’: Blythe Danner Steals Our Hearts

Michael Clark
PG-13 | 1h 32min | DramaComedy, Romance | 15 May 2015 (USA)

As baby boomers continue to age, and with their disposable entertainment dollars becoming less likely to support comic-book franchises, Hollywood, at its usual glacier’s pace, has reacted by tossing them a bone or two per year. “I’ll See You in My Dreams” ("ISYIMD") is a prime example of this type of offering.

If for no other reason, boomers (or anyone else looking for a gripping romance) should consider investing a couple of hours and minimal dollars to see “ISYIMD” featuring the underrated and vastly overlooked Blythe Danner, in what could rightfully be considered the defining performance of her stellar career.

 Blythe Danner as Carol in "I'll See You in My Dreams." (Bleecker Street)
Blythe Danner as Carol in "I'll See You in My Dreams." (Bleecker Street)

The Face, the Voice, Maybe Not the Name

Known to most as the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow, Danner has shown up in over 100 movies, TV shows, and stage productions in mostly supporting roles since 1968. Long ago committed to raising her children with her late producer husband Bruce Paltrow, Danner has always provided what the industry calls “flavored accent” to productions in which she’s appeared.

You know the face, you know the voice, but you can’t quite recall the name. It’s a pity that this movie didn’t come out in the late fall of 2015 because it would have surely put Danner on the short list for an Oscar nomination. Such is the life and career of a preeminent character performer.

As Carol, Danner portrays a woman we all know or would really like to know. She’s been a widow for two decades, lives in a semi-upscale California retirement community, and is ultra cool, although she doesn’t know it (which is good).

Carol plays bridge and golf, drinks probably more than she should (but not too much), and regularly resists the urging from her friends (Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, and Mary Kay Place) to get out there and find a new man.

Sizzle at Any Age

Being the willowy, understated, fetching type, Carol doesn’t have to find a man, and as it turns out, the right man (Sam Elliott as Bill) finds her. Bill is the kind of guy we’ve come to expect from the most recent incarnation of Elliott—ruggedly handsome, unaffected, and bluntly charming.

He sees Carol across the way; they make lingering eye contact, and he works his baritone, gravel-voiced magic. They go out and then they go out again. It’s heaven for both of them, and we realize that passion, longing, and the newness of romance doesn’t have to fizzle out with the graying of the temples.

For reasons that remain dodgy, for the duration of the film director Brett Haley (“Hearts Beat Loud”) and his co-writer Marc Basch include a second possible love interest for Carol in the form of Lloyd (Martin Starr), a pool boy who is young enough to be her son and far too old to be a pool boy. Directionless but nervously appealing, Lloyd involves Carol in platonic-ish activities like karaoke (where she excels), but the gleam in his eye indicates that he’d go further if she opened the door and invited him in.

 Blythe Danner as Carol and Martin Starr as Lloyd in "I'll See You in My Dreams." (Bleecker Street)
Blythe Danner as Carol and Martin Starr as Lloyd in "I'll See You in My Dreams." (Bleecker Street)

After finding out about the friendship with Lloyd, the bridge club girls work themselves into a lather and make their requisite cougar asides, and it’s good for a quick chuckle but nothing more. Lloyd’s best contribution comes in the final act when he performs the film’s title song while playing a ukulele.

One of the more impressive and refreshing aspects of the movie is the way the filmmakers handle the subplot involving Carol’s adult daughter Katherine (Malin Ackerman). Far too often in projects of this genre (and others), the mother-daughter dynamic is heightened and exaggerated to absurd levels, with the thinking that forced dramatic tension somehow adds to the emotional impact of the narrative.

The fact that these two women get along so well and don’t come with any past baggage to unpack is just another facet proving that it is indeed possible to make a great movie about normal people.

No Gwyneth Is a Good Thing

There was nothing contained in the studio’s original press notes, or anywhere online going into the details of the casting process, but one would have to think that Gwyneth Paltrow might have at least been considered for the role of Katherine.

In retrospect, that would have been a mistake and it’s fortunate that it didn’t happen. It would have been a huge distraction and would have almost certainly resulted in the more famous actress, intended or not, stealing the deserved attention away from her real-life mother.

In full disclosure, the pair had worked together before, the first time being in the 1992 TV miniseries “Cruel Doubt” and then again in the 2003 film “Sylvia,” neither of which turned out very well. Worth your time, however, is Ken Burns’s 1997 documentary “Thomas Jefferson” where they each provide voice-over performances of blood-related historical figures.

Presented in a brisk 92 minutes, “ISYIMD” deserves high praise for not trying too hard to be deep, yet still does so by being (mostly) natural and avoiding a traditional A-to-B narrative.

 Rea Perlman (L) as Carol's friend and Blythe Danner as Carol in "I'll See You in My Dreams." (Bleecker Street)
Rea Perlman (L) as Carol's friend and Blythe Danner as Carol in "I'll See You in My Dreams." (Bleecker Street)

There aren’t any grand character arcs or life-altering revelations, and only a minimal amount of plot. It covers the day-to-day events in the life of a woman of advanced years who slowly breaks free from routine and begins to see why everyone is so taken with her. The only thing better than knowing Carol is being Carol.

If you’re looking for another excellent movie with Danner containing similar subject matter, check out “What We Had” from 2018.

‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ Director: Brett Haley Stars: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, Martin Starr, Rhea Perlman, Malin Akerman Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes MPAA Rating: PG-13 Release Date: May 15, 2015 Rating: 4 out of 5
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.