Blythe Danner Brings a Glowing Grace to ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’

Once, after my divorce, I was taking a shuttle to LAX and one of the other passengers was an elderly lady who was going to Chicago. She was flushed with excitement, almost bursting with joy. On the drive to the airport, I asked her where she was going. This was the beginning of a new life; she was getting married.

As it turned out, she was returning to her hometown, having worked in the Los Angeles area as a school teacher. She was, something of the stereotype of the school marm: A private person, intelligent and modest.

Life doesn’t end after retirement. The 72-year-old Blythe Danner makes a welcome return to the silver screen as the protagonist in “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” The younger generation of movie goers might remember her as Dina Byrnes in “Meet the Parents” or just as the mother of Academy Award-winning actor Gwyneth Paltrow and “NYPD Blue” and “The Big Bang Theory” director Jake Paltrow.

Danner has a few awards herself. Danner won a 1970 Tony Award for “Butterflies Are Free,” originating the role that would later be played by Goldie Hawn in the 1972 movie with Walter Matthau. In 2005 and 2006, Danner won Emmys for her role in “Huff.”

In “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Danner plays a widow, Carol, who has been comfortably alone for a few decades. Before she was married, she had been a singer, and she had, for a time, been a teacher. The insurance settlement left her well-off and her daughter has not yet married or had children. For 14 years, her yellow Labrador retriever has kept her company, but the death of the dog startles her. Although she has four girlfriends who all live in a retirement home nearby, she resists joining them but begins to feel lonely. When a rat appears in her house, she reaches out to her new pool boy, Lloyd (Martin Starr of “Silicon Valley”).

Lloyd introduces her to karaoke and a chance meeting with a tall, good-looking stranger (Sam Elliott) gently nudge Carol to make a few changes and take a few chances.

Director Brett Haley happened upon a senior citizen speed-dating event which inspired him to write this story with Marc Basch. What we have is not a laugh-out loud comedy, but rather a gentle contemplation and a glimmer of hope for the so-called golden years. Carol does attend a speed dating event and she meets men who cover a wide range, from icky to sweetly earnest. Fans of “Barney Miller” might be delighted to recognize Max Gail (Detective Stan “Wojo” Wojciehowicz) in a brief appearance as a hopeful speed-dater.

Danner’s Carol is observant and hesitant as she steps outside of her routine. Her blue eyes slowly light up with hope. This is not, however, a happily ever after kind of movie.

You never know what will happen. The lady I met on that shuttle trip had returned to her hometown for a high school reunion, met up with a classmate who had been widowed and found a sweet romance.

Life doesn’t have to end at 60 and it’s nice to see older actresses in movies about the kind of life that awaits all of us if we are lucky to survive into our senior years.

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