Whether referred to as ‘boomer-com’, ‘boomer-porn’ or some similar reference to films targeted at the increasingly dominant demographic of ‘mature’ audiences, there is no denying that we are seeing a wave of excellent films both starring, and oriented to, movie-goers of a certain age. Recent examples include the ‘Marigold Hotel’ films, ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘Enough Said’ and you can expect many more to follow.
An outstanding current example of the genre is ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’, starring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. It’s fair to say that this is a ‘small’ film, but that is a compliment. With lovely performances, a touching story and good actors simply being good, ‘Dreams’ is a welcome departure from the loud and crashing offerings now dominating the box office. And if you are a boomer, you will discover many of your favorite characters from the ‘old days’ of TV and film populating this movie. These include Rhea Perlman from ‘Cheers’; Mary Kay Place from ‘The Big Chill’; and June Squibb from everywhere. They provide the core of friends who are encouraging Blythe Danner’s lonely widow to get out into the world and do a bit more than just play golf and water her plants. The familiarity of these faces makes for such a comfortable film that you are immediately engaged, as if at a dinner with old friends.
The plot is simple and familiar – an ‘after school special’ for 60+- somethings. Blythe Danner’s Carol has been widowed for many years and has shown little interest in a new relationship, happy in the comfort of friends, family and her home in a Sun City-style complex for older adults. But her circle of friends, who are a bit more randy than Carol, keep urging her to jump into the (dating) pool and test the water. A reluctant Carol, with the help of her new drinking buddy, pool maintenance man Lloyd, decides to take the plunge (is this analogy starting to wear a bit thin?). After a disastrous experience with speed dating, Carol becomes intrigued by a charming, laconic and independent spirit in Sam Elliott’s Bill. Without spoiling the plot entirely, let me simply say that Carol and Bill’s emerging romance ends in tragedy. But in the process, Carol comes to understand and accept the fleeting nature of life and love; and as a result, appears ready to re-engage with that same life and love with a renewed vigor and urgency.
This is Blythe Danner’s movie, and she owns it from beginning to end. Long happy to stay in the shadow of her film director husband Bruce Paltrow (who died in 2002) and her actress daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, she is easily equal in beauty to her daughter; and even more easily superior in subtlety and nuance as an actress. How we have been kept from this woman for so long is a shame. Whether displaying longing and loss in a scene in a local karaoke bar; astonishment and amusement at the desperation of her speed dating partners; or giving in to her pent-up feelings in a discreet love scene with Elliott, Danner’s range is outstanding. She alone is worth the price of admission.
But the supporting characters are excellent as well. Rhea Perlman is her sharp and sassy self as the sparkplug who keeps pushing Carol to get out and live. Mary Kay Place is the opposite – the proper, organizing presence who is always worrying about ‘what is right’. And June Squibb is the saucy wisecraker, always ready with a bon mot and always ready to spark up a (medical) doobie. Sam Elliott does what he does best – play the confident, laconic, Marlboro Man; sexy even at 70, primarily because he is so comfortable in his own skin. But the real ‘find’ in this film is Carol’s newly discovered drinking buddy, Lloyd, played by Martin Starr. Lloyd is a lost soul who shows up to clean the pool; stays to share wine and wisdom; and ultimately grows up in a reflection of Carol’s growing out. It is a lovely reflection of two people coming to terms with their lives and finding that, with mutual support, they actually like what the see.
“Dreams’ will probably not make millions of dollars, and it will certainly never be seen by more than a small handful of the movie industry’s target demographic of 16 – 25 year old males. But is a perfect date night film, whether you are 25, 45, 65 or 85. Love belongs to everyone, regardless of age. And this is a very loving film.