‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’
Brett Haley
Stars: Blythe Danner, Martin Starr
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” only appears to drown in Sundance cliches. It still does, sometimes. But at its best, it’s a tough, unflinching look at aging that bravely goes to complicated places. It’s in part a vehicle and showcase for Blythe Danner, an actress who rarely gets the chance to show off what she can do, which is considerably more than she’s often required. She’s Carol, a widow stuck in a comfortable, isolated groove, joined only by her dog. The dog dies in the opening moments, forcing her to accept the advances of two men: Bill, a warm, unlit cigar-chomping, Sam Elliott-esque stud played by no less than Sam Elliott; and Lloyd, a young go-nowhere pool cleaner (Martin Starr) well over half her age. The former is very forward, while the latter isn’t sure what to do with his feelings for a woman so wise and charismatic, and yet so emotionally remote.

Director and co-writer Brett Haley previously made “The New Year,” another detached look at a loner — there, a young woman using her dad’s illness as an excuse to divorce herself from society. Both films flirt with eye-rolling Amerindie tropes while sneaking in something more truthful, even subversive. In this case it’s a film that not treats retiree’s love lives with maturity and respect, and with astute observation. Carol reluctantly succumbs to Lloyd, both because a grinning man’s man is so different from her late husband and because she’s wary at her age to commit wholeheartedly to anyone. Sometimes Haley underlines these ideas in dialogue, but he refrains from also italicizing and bolding them. He knows you can watch Carol’s trepidation on her face and body language, which stops just short of being inviting. She’s chatty and welcoming, but only to a point, and you can always sense someone who in interactions wants to keep one foot pointing the other way.

Haley is right with her, but he can be clumsy. He gives her a group of friends — played by Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squibb — who do nothing but supply all the goofy old person jokes you expect from these things, complete with a lengthy detour into a stoner adventure that is non-stop face-palm. This business seems there to placate some financier, especially given how lazy it is compared to the rest. There’s a soothing indie score, a nice indie ending, but a good amount of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” isn’t afraid to be indie in the purest, most honest sense of the word.

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