For the first time in 2015, I can say I’ve seen an Oscar worthy performance. Sure, there have been fine performances and a few strong ones, but Blythe Danner’s work in the indie darling I’ll See You In My Dreams is something that will make you stop, think and recognize. You know her work well, flailing behind Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents and its relentless sequels and many TV shows like Will and Grace, Huff and several other supporting roles. For the first time, at the ripe age of 72, Danner has a movie all to herself and it’s a beautiful sight.
Danner’s Carol is alone. In every sense of the word. At the beginning of this film, Carol loses her dog and this follows the loss of her husband and her daughter lives on the East coast. She has a circle of friends(including Rhea Perlman, June Squibb and Mary Kay Place) to play cards with and a pool man(Martin Starr) who she can talk to, but she is starting to count the layers that make up her life and what it means. When told by her daughter that she’s lived a full life, Carol doesn’t seem to like to the pretense. She doesn’t want her life to be over or wrapping up. She’s got living to do and it starts with meeting Bill(Sam Elliott, as good as ever). When she starts to fall for and have some fun with this new man in her life, everything else starts to slide around in new directions. Of course everything doesn’t go as planned.
The great thing about independent films is they move at their own pace, like an extended guitar solo that isn’t being watched over by a production studio head. You can feel the freedom in co-writer/director Brett Haley’s storytelling, dialogue and pace. There’s no rush here in telling Carol’s story and it’s 0ne of the ways this film works so well.
Another is the acting. The supporting cast all provide good work here, especially Starr in a role that could have been easily forgotten if played a touch heavier or lighter. The most honest scenes in the film involved Danner and Starr talking about bookends of life, a young man trying to make an older woman feel a little better. Elliott is always a pleasure to watch work. The film world will be a lot less cool the day he decides to step away.
However, The film belongs to Danner(who shares a birthday with me). There are two scenes that will nearly move you to tears. An early scene involving Carol and her dog is heartbreaking, and the impact registers due to the lack of music and dialogue. The look on Danner’s face could speak novels of emotion and expressive acting. Another scene towards the end runs the gauntlet of emotions and Danner handles it like a pro. Every actor is born to play one signature role and while it took 100 films and 47 years, Danner has found her best performance.
I’ll See You In My Dreams doesn’t reinvent the way movies or told and may not be recognized for many awards, but it’s a heartfelt soulful look at how someone sums up a life and when is it okay to stop “living”. With Danner’s assured work at the heart of this story, this indie may have you looking at things a bit different than you did before it came on.
As the summer season transitions to the fall, get under a cozy blanket, whip up some tea and enjoy the confidence of a true indie gem.