LOVE AND SEX IN THE TWILIGHT YEARS
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Rating: PG-13, Grade: B+
American cinema has a problem with depictions of the lives of mature (read: older) characters; though, to be completely honest, the point could be argued that the industry (both studio-based and even its more independent side) struggles with portraying the everyday and the inner lives of characters. Pick whatever category or demographic you like—age, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation—and you will see that we tend to shy away from true and probing introspection. And don’t even think of adding sexuality and intimacy into the equation. There is no faster way to spin a plot toward gratuitous displays of violence or random sexualized body parts—in all cases, outside of those involving older characters, of course.
Which is why the little story of Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) is so curious. “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” from Co-writer and Director Brett Haley (who partnered with Marc Basch on the script), turns its attention on a long-time widow. Living on her own and engaged with a number of relatively close girlfriends—Georgina (June Squibb), Sally (Rhea Perlman) and Rona (Mary Kay Place)—who have adjusted to the social milieu of an active retirement community. They play cards together, golf on-site, take part in speed-dating events and generally seem like a senior-set version of “Sex and the City.”
Yet, Carol resists such simple classification. Living apart from the system, entering the scene when it suits her, singles her out as a more contented individual. That is, until she loses her beloved dog. We watch her sharing the pet’s final moments, mourning the loss, and we understand that, suddenly, she is not just alone, but lonely. When she spies a rat in her home, she panics and eagerly reaches out to the nearest person for aid and comfort. Lloyd (Martin Starr) happens to be on hand, cleaning her pool, and we watch what should be an awkward connection—based on the vast age difference and perceived interests—become endearingly touching.
They laugh off the notion of a cougar dynamic being at work between them, although that suggestion lurks for anyone who encounters the two of them together. Lloyd and Carol talk—a foreign notion in today’s social media driven landscape—and bond over music. He sings karaoke with much more enthusiasm than talent, while Carol reveals a key bit of her past life as a singer and songwriter. When she takes the mic for a karaoke rendition of “Cry Me a River,” Lloyd and the audience sit enraptured by the faith she instills.
Lloyd opens the emotional doorway into Carol’s world, but it is laconic Bill (Sam Elliot) who strides into the space, claiming it for himself. He and Carol bump into each other a few times at the retirement community, but it is clear that he, like Carol, is not a part of this world. He doesn’t golf or attend the social mixers. But Bill is unlike Carol because he is much more comfortable being alone, until Carol shakes him up. And he wants something more from her than friendship. Bill’s presence replaces the awkwardness of the barely presumed sexual relationship with Lloyd. Carol has been not just single but also celibate since her husband’s death, and the re-awakening of such desire frightens and thrills her.
Add into the mix the arrival of Carol’s estranged daughter Katherine (Malin Akerman), and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” has all the hallmarks of a broad studio sketch on the subject. But, thankfully, Danner and the superb cast deftly steer clear of the anticipated shenanigans. The film has the quiet force of a song, an album track that didn’t earn airplay or single status but demands repeat listens because it contains a deeper truth than the universal sloganeering that makes for a hit. This is real intimate music.