Carol (Blythe Danner) is a retired schoolteacher who spends her days relaxing in her beautiful home, enjoying her independence and the companionship of her dog. She also takes comfort in memories of her late, beloved husband. The only thing disrupting Carol’s peace is a rat, whose unpredictable appearances send her skittering onto her patio.
Occasionally she drops by a nearby retirement community to chat with her friends Sally (Rhea Perlman), Rona (Mary Kay Place) and Georgina (June Squibb), who take great delight in gossip. But Carol has no desire to move there. She’s content to live alone, even with the rat problem.
What Carol has trouble handling is a tragedy that lowers her guard and leads her to explore new relationships. One is with Lloyd (Martin Starr), a 30-ish pool cleaner who lacks enthusiasm about his job and about his life in general. The other is with Bill (Sam Elliott), a wiry retiree who sports an unlit cigar and is more than casually interested in getting to know her a lot better.
It’s been a long time since Carol had much to do with men. Lloyd’s too young to be a true romantic option, yet he draws her out in surprising ways — including a visit to a karaoke bar, where he gets something of a surprise himself.
Although Bill isn’t shy about his intentions, his sheer aggressiveness somehow comes across as endearing. And as much as she might decline to admit it, Carol longs for a man’s touch.
But at her age, is she really up for big changes in her life? And how long can she keep bolting to the patio?
Directed and co-written by Brett Haley, “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is a small but lovely film about getting the most out of life, regardless of how much life one has left. And it’s a wonderful showcase for Danner, who brings to the proceedings a rare blend of charisma, intelligence and vulnerability.
Perhaps best known for mom roles — as Teri Polo’s in “Meet the Parents” and its sequels, and as Gwyneth Paltrow’s in real life — Danner has had a long career in film and television without quite achieving the recognition due her. As Carol, she comes through with a performance that deserves to be remembered come Oscar season. And the supporting cast — particularly Starr and Elliott — couldn’t be better.
“I’ll See You in My Dreams” is at once funny and poignant — and not just for moviegoers of a certain age.
What “I’ll See You in My Dreams”• Three stars out of four • Run time 1:35 • Rating PG-13 • Content Sexual material, drug use, language