Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

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— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

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I’ve been anticipating I’ll See You In My Dreams since last fall. There are only 2 degrees of separation from me and the first-time screenwriter, and one of my “degrees” was very excited to see her friend’s film getting made.

I was more skeptical than hopeful. But I think screenwriter Marc Basch and writer/director Brett Haley made a lot of right choices in assembling this fine independent drama.

Not So Blythe

Bill takes charge while Carol drifts
Bill takes charge while Carol drifts

Blythe Danner sports long, silver-blond locks as Carol, who hangs out with women her age and older. Carol lives alone. She has a daughter on the other coast. Her husband died many years ago and she’s been single ever since.

Carol’s friends live in a retirement community on a golf course. Rhea Perlman’s Sally is probably the youngest and most gregarious of them. Mary Kay Place is Rona, a little more classy and conservative. Georgina (June Squibb) seems maybe half a generation older, but she’s still one of the girls.

But before we even know Carol’s name, her dog dies. It was nothing traumatic, just old age, but it’s painful for her (and presumably for all of us in the audience who have lost a pet too). It defines how we see Carol. We presume she must be a very lonely person.

Pool or Boat?

A rat spotted in Carol’s house one night makes her sleep out on the patio furniture (this is southern California), which gives her an awkward introduction to the new pool boy Lloyd (Martin Starr).

“Pool boy”? I know what you’re thinking, but It’s not like that, really. Lloyd isn’t the hot ladykiller, and Carol isn’t the pouncing cougar. A little friendship develops with maybe only the hint of a spark of a romance. Lloyd is lonely, unsatisfied, and resigned to it. He moved back from Austin and is living in his mom’s basement, ostensibly to help with her health issues. Lloyd tells Carol that she’s a good drinking buddy. Carol seems comfortable around Lloyd.

No sooner has Lloyd become an option than Carol meets Bill (Sam Elliott, playing his usual persona). Bill is the very definition of manhood, driving a Cadillac, taking firm charge of the relationship, and always being the gentleman. Bill is single, freshly arrived from Dallas. He moved to California because he wanted to spend time on his boat, the So What. Bill always has a cigar in his mouth, never lit (“Someone once told me I had an ‘oral fixation,’” he chuckles). He prefers steak, whiskey, red wine, and once, Coors® Banquet™ beer, label facing perfectly toward the camera.

The two men provide a stark contrast for Carol. Lloyd is a mirror, sharing all her sadness, aimlessness and ennui. Bill is the converse: contented, confident, stable, and forward-looking.

I’ll See You In My Dreams is about Carol’s fulfillment, but it’s not just about Carol choosing a man. That may be part of it, but for I’ll See You In My Dreams, life is bigger than just who your partner is.

In fact, the film is more about loss than romance.

One of her friends dies midway through the film, and it comes as a shock (both to her and to the audience). It is one more loss for Carol, crystallizing her character’s conflict not as “which man to choose,” but about how to deal with loss without being destroyed by it.

Humble Ambitions

I am not ecstatic about I’ll See You In My Dreams. There is too much exposition from answering machine messages. The brief mother/daughter relationship (Malin Akerman plays Kath) is too defined by their age difference (which may ring true for many people).

But I did like the characters, particularly Carol and Lloyd. I like how Danner’s Carol is not the center of her social circle, but rather a friend finding her role on the side. As Lloyd, Starr always has a blank stare that I’m afraid too many people in his (my?) generation will develop — living in mom’s basement, working a job you’re overqualified for, and opting for detached irony over genuine connection or skill.

For a low-budget drama, I’ll See You In My Dreams is good. It sets a humble ambitions, makes few mistakes, and reaches for genuine emotion over audience manipulation. In short, it works.