It is hard to describe the ineffable qualities that make I’ll See You In My Dreams such an indelible film. Aside from the poignant title, the initial summary on paper tends toward the banal: the film is about an older woman, Carol, played by Blythe Danner, the stunning, elegant mother of Gwyneth Paltrow. In one of Danner’s most captivating roles, we follow her character’s placid retired life in California as it takes a series of unexpected turns.
Carol’s days are occupied by bridge, golf, and numerous glasses of excellent Chardonnay. Her life is complete – she is busy with her activities and her inner life is rich, complemented by an extraordinary sense of humour and a natural grace that sustains her through life’s tragedies and comedies. Widowed for twenty years, Carol is adored by her only daughter, Katherine (Malin Åckerman), and her three long time friends: a hilarious trio played by June Squibb as Georgina, Rhea Perlman as Sally, and Mary Kay Place as Rona. It is when she begins an unorthodox friendship with the man who cleans her pool, Lloyd (Martin Starr), and attracts the attention of a very handsome silver-haired man named Bill (the dashing, ridiculously debonair Sam Elliott) that things start to get a bit screwy, albeit thankfully far more nuanced than the usual stuff of romantic comedies.
Blythe Danner embodies a woman with a beautiful mind. Her Carol has a generous heart, wit, and a luminosity that comes from a shimmering, evolving intelligence. It is no wonder that I’ll See You In My Dreams is so unforgettable when it is peopled by characters like her. The performance of the ensemble cast involving her friends, only child, lover, and beloved dog come in as close seconds.
It is rare to see a film that is honest about growing older, dealing with loneliness, and grappling with life’s occasional, arbitrary callousness with a levity and profundity that carries the gravitas that these events deserve. The minutiae of life and how we deal with little dramas on a daily basis is the stuff of real importance when it comes to creating character - not our handling of life changing events, as we would like to think. It is not easy to romanticise the quotidian, and yet, those who deal well with the ordinary are often the ones who are at their best in the worst of times.
In a year of such mediocrity, I was delighted to find this gem disguised as a film about “older” people - an unfortunate subjugation of a seemingly generic film that transcends expectations. Do not mistake this as a film about and for older women. That would make you the intransigent, boring one.