I’ll See You in My Dreams

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I’ll See You in My Dreams is about a woman of a certain age (and I’m not exactly certain what that age is: just generically and Hollywoodishly silvered) who has lost husband (twenty years ago in a plane crash), daughter (well, not exactly, but they are not close either geographically or emotionally), and dog.

But she still looks great, drinks (a lot, but never presumably to excess), has a standing appointment with a pool cleaning company, and a circle of supportive friends whose lives seem as empty and useless as hers, only I don’t think any one of them would see it that way, nor do I think the director/writer intended it that way. There is no one black, gay, Hispanic, or Asian in this fairy-tale retirement village world. (Actually, that’s not strictly true. There are three very fine black women in the film, all working behind a counter.) No one reads a book, talks about ideas, thinks about — or even mentions — their kids, is active in local politics, or volunteers at a soup kitchen. Carol, the Blythe Danner character at the center of the story, has two items on her kitchen whiteboard: “Dry cleaning” and “Walk.”

But I don’t think this vacuousness is meant to be the topic of the film, nor presumably what all the critics are raving about. I think it’s supposed to be some sort of bittersweet vision of old age: that death is inevitable and chances missed are chances missed. (See photo above; that kind of sums it all up.)

Spoiler alert, if it isn’t already clear: I didn’t like this movie. At all. I guess I should be glad that filmmakers — and their backers — are turning their attentions to the lucrative baby boomer market and finally grokking that older people with disposal incomes and free afternoons will go to the movies if there is something for them to see. In fact, I think we older types (although Steve and I do still, on a typical Tuesday matinee, lower the average age by a good five to ten years) are so humbly, ridiculously grateful for the opportunity to see someone over the age of twenty-six (especially an interesting female character) that we will submit to increasingly inane knockoffs of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and similarly dumbed-down rom coms. Or character studies like this one, where the writer/director (thirty-something Brett Haley) projects youthful attributes, motivations, and reactions onto seventy-somethings.

Which is not to say that those in their sunset years aren’t as vibrant, sharp, and engaged as their younger counterparts. Thanks to a host of factors from improved diet, nutrition, and medical interventions to chemistry and cosmetology, older people look, sound, and feel a lot better than they ever did. Plus we are all so much prettier now than in the past. Will there ever again be a movie star (or a stage star for that matter) who looks like Marie Dressler — who, in this photo, was only sixty-four to Blythe Danner’s seventy-two?

The concerns and preoccupations of those past the mating, child-rearing, and job promotion years are understandably different from those struggling with these challenges. People are always people, and love, death, and taxes do resonate for us all. But giggling over cute boys is not really a postmenopausal priority, even if that cute boy is a Richard Gere or, as here, a Sam Elliott. And I am getting thoroughly tired of the tedious trope of oldsters snorting, popping, or inhaling illicit substances for comic effect. While with old age does come a certain what-the-hell confidence, caution — not to mention fear of adverse reactions with prescription regimens — tends to rule the day.

So my main problem with this movie is that while it has older actors front and center, it does not have their issues similarly to the fore. Nebraska did, quirkily and beautifully. So did Get Low and Amour. This and other offerings are more lightweight, less believable (e.g., and very disappointingly, Rob Reiner’s And So It Goes); others, like Love Is Strange, use the inevitability of death and disease as the melodramatic sticking point.

But the audiences seem satisfied, and the actors are glad — very glad — to be employed. For proof of that, see this interview with Sam Elliott, particularly the last three paragraphs where he rails against a worldview that doesn’t see or portray older people: “It’s all about f—ing youth. It’s never about people that have learned, people that have grown, people that have life experience.”

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