Can one performance save an entirely otherwise bland production? Normally, I’m inclined to say no, and I’ll See You In My Dreams does not do much to persuade me otherwise. This is a dull indie flop that features lazy direction, boring camerawork, hackneyed writing, and one hell of a leading lady. However, despite that leading lady’s clear devotion to the role, this is a great example of how an independent film darling can depend so entirely on its star power as to be entirely pointless otherwise.
The film opens on our widowed protagonist Carol (Blythe Danner) spending time with her dog, going about her daily routine around the house. Within a few moments, though, we find ourselves at the vet’s office, watching Carol go through the agonizing process of putting her sick, elderly dog down. With this newfound hole in her life, Carol begins to experiment in being social once more, befriending her pool boy, getting into shenanigans with her retirement home friends, and trying to get out and date again.
The triteness of this premise could have been saved by some funny screenwriting or some interesting visual metaphors, but the director, Brett Haley, couldn’t seem to be bothered. Every shot is filmed for the straight communication of information directly from the mouths of the characters, with no visual flourish or cinematic dynamism to keep the experience fresh and interesting. Danner does a great job of portraying Carol’s inner turmoil as she takes her introverted self out into more sociable experiences, but she alone can’t save this film, particularly because of the blandness of the material she has to work with.
The script itself is largely lacking in heartfelt moments that rise above tropes and plot points we’ve seen before in other movies. We see Carol go out on tortuous speed-dating, begin to quickly fall for a love interest in the form of a phallic cigar-chomping Sam Elliot, struggle with the loss of an elderly friend, and a number of other saccharine moments that have done better and more interestingly in other films. There are a few exceptions, such as a pot-smoking scene with Carol’s old lady friends, but those rare moments of interest come off as more bizarre than endearing, considering the context in which they’re presented.
All in all, I’ll See You In My Dreams is a really boring movie. It may speak to an older audience who can relate to Carol’s experiences more directly, but as someone who watches a lot of films, I found it impossible to ignore the lazy reliance of elderly tropes and the lackluster effort put into the production. Blythe Danner is a talented actress, and she slips into her role as Carol flawlessly and sympathetically, but one person cannot usually save an entire production. The director actually has to make an effort too.