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Arts & Life

Film Review: Blythe Danner Charms And Surprises In 'I'll See You In My Dreams'

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Within the predictable summer onslaught of overstimulated superheroes in crushing surround sound, it’s refreshing to find a charming and funny antidote in "I’ll See You in My Dreams." Directed and co-written by Brett Haley, the movie stars Blythe Danner as Carol, a widowed resident of a retirement village who finds companionship with one man around her age and another some forty years younger. Both of them succeed at whittling away the tough barriers she thought she has needed around her.

When Danner (luminous at 72) loses her beloved dog in the opening minutes, it reacquaints her with the same kind of emotional vacuum she experienced when her husband died two decades earlier. She takes solace in white wine and card games with her gregarious girlfriends, played by Mary Kay Place (the level-headed one), Rhea Perlman (the feisty one), and June Squibb (the salty one). When Perlman suggests she and Carol attend an evening of speed dating, the scene is the first in a string of movie clichés that end up being trumped by a winning combination: the sharp screenplay and Danner’s rich and constantly surprising performance.

The first man to slip into her life is the most unexpected: Lloyd, the pool boy, played by Martin Starr of HBO’s "Silicon Valley." It's doubtful there's any potential for lasting connection with Carol, given that he’s in his early thirties and lives with his parents; on the upside, he’s smart, he listens, and he thinks Carol is a gem. Transcending another potential cliché — the date in the karaoke bar — is the actors’ camaraderie and Danner’s lovely version of “Cry Me a River.” She also begins dating Bill, a fellow resident more calendar-compatible and played with silvery suaveness by Sam Elliott.

Other filmmakers might have wrapped the story with a pretty bow but Haley resists; there’s more bitter than sweet here. His best decision, though, was to hire Danner. She’s been good before, but usually in supporting roles eclipsed by bigger names. Expertly playing a character who is both kind and curmudgeonly, Danner proves she deserves top billing more often.

"I’ll See You in My Dreams" | Dir. Brett Haley | 92 min., PG-13 | Playing at the Rio, 7204 W. 80th St., Overland Park, Kansas, 913-383-9500 and Tivoli Cinemas, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Missouri, 64111.

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