Arts & Culture · Film & Television

Movie Review: Sweet Possibilities in ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’

There’s a sweet meme floating around Facebook right now that says, “I don’t care who dies in a movie as long as the dog lives.”

In the sweet new movie, I’ll See You in My Dreams, the dog dies in the first 10 minutes.

Hazel, the aforementioned canine, belongs to Carol Petersen, a retired widow who leads a well-ordered — if chardonnay-lubricated — life in her charming Southern California cottage. From the first scene, we learn that Hazel is ailing and, sure enough, Carol soon takes her to the vet and has to put her down. What plays out is true and tender. (I was immediately transported to my own vet’s office a year ago when we euthanized our beloved elderly dachshund. And I’ve a feeling I wasn’t alone.) “I’m just going to stay here,” Carol tells Hazel with tears in her eyes as the doctor administers the second and final injection. The beauty of this sequence (besides the privilege of observing a poignant, private farewell) is that we are hopelessly hooked. Whatever transpires over the next hour and a half, we are on Carol’s side.

Of course, caring about Carol isn’t difficult. Emmy-winner Blythe Danner, now 72, has never been so radiant. She plays Carol with a quiet intelligence, self-awareness and class. The loss of her dog and the arrival of a less welcome animal push Carol out of her comfort zone.

The night after Hazel’s death, Carol pours herself a generous glass of wine and spots a huge black rat in her otherwise meticulous living room. She screams (as one would) and ends up sleeping out on her patio. The next morning the pool boy arrives and, once he confirms that she isn’t dead, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Lloyd, played with an earnest vacancy by the likeable Martin Starr, is a failed poet and musician who is regrouping at his mother’s house. Carol convinces him to join her in some wine and he soon admits that she’s “a good drinking buddy.” When he notices a picture of her fronting a band 40 years earlier, he’s intrigued.

“Why did you stop?” he asks her. “I don’t know,” she admits. “One morning I woke up and I just wasn’t singing anymore.”

Although it’s never clearly spoken, we sense that marriage and family got in the way of Carol’s musical career. She had lost her husband 20 years ago in a plane crash, but keeps pictures of him on her mantelpiece, along with an ornate urn of his ashes, which she absentmindedly brushes with her fingertips. Although Carol hasn’t had a relationship since she was widowed, she isn’t exactly wallowing. She enjoys her solitude, but she isn’t lonely. She has three girlfriends, played to the hilt by Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place and June Squibb, who live in a retirement community close by. Together, they gossip, reminisce and, at Carol’s urging, get high on medicinal marijuana. One of the movie’s funniest scenes involves a late-night trip to the store to stock up on munchies. “You girls having a party?” asks the clerk as she rings up vast quantities of junk food. When a handsome young police officer stops the foursome for wheeling their stuffed cart through the streets, they protest that they have no choice because there aren’t any sidewalks. “This community is pedestrian-challenged!” one of them exclaims as her friends try to control their giggles. The scene stops just shy of being too silly, and the four actresses are clearly having a ball.

Carol and her friends don’t need men, per se, but they certainly enjoy talking about them. It turns out that Carol is much admired at the golf course. “You couldn’t pay me to marry again,” she rebuffs her friends. At their age, she’s reminded, it does pay to remarry. Literally.

Although Carol resists her friends’ best efforts, love enters in the form of a handsome cowboy with a fat, unlit, cigar. Bill, played with smoldering charm by Sam Elliott, has recently arrived from Texas. After a couple of chance meetings, Carol agrees to lunch and is swept away on his boat. He doesn’t want to be alone, he tells her. He wants to enjoy life and he makes it pretty clear, pretty quick that she’s the person he wants to enjoy it with.

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  • Patricia. Moscatello July 10, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I look forward to seeing it as soon as possible.

  • Chris L. July 10, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Did you just spoil the ending? Will likely still see it – Blythe Danner is five times the actress her glamorous offspring is.