It's not a big mystery why Hollywood isn't cranking out movies geared toward older audiences. Explosions and boobs make the studios piles of cash out of the gate and in the lucrative foreign markets, while chatty character pieces about those of a certain age play more effectively to English-speaking crowds and, thanks to buzz, typically generate better revenue for the theaters in the later weeks. (It's what the industry refers to as "legs.") But as the first wave of the coveted and powerful baby-boomer demographic turns 70, you may encounter more films like "I'll See You in My Dreams," a beautifully acted rumination on aging that only occasionally succumbs to broad cliché. And you certainly don't need to be a senior citizen in order to appreciate its charms.
"I'll See You in My Dreams" stars the radiant Blythe Danner as Carol, a retired teacher and longtime widow who we meet as she's saying goodbye to an old friend. (Warning: You might be blubbering within the first five minutes.) Her days are filled with routine like gardening, solitary meals, and cards with the girls. (These "girls" are ringers: Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, and Mary Kay Place.) But even though she declares "I don't like my life all complicated," Carol does seem to be seeking connection of some kind. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with pool cleaner Lloyd (Apatow regular Martin Starr, excellent as always) and she lets Perlman's sassy Sally talk her into a painful round of speed dating. Then Carol meets Bill.
Bill is played by the eternally sexy Sam Elliott, so when Bill hits on Carol in the vitamin aisle, the proverbial sparks can't help but fly. The too-perfect Bill is more plot-fueling archetype than breathing being, but Elliott, his scorching charisma still intact even if his pants are belted a little higher these days, is perfectly cast as the silver fox that might tempt a lonely widow to take a chance. "I'll See You in My Dreams" unfolds as Carol begins to poke her head out from the shell of her rigid life by relying upon others and allowing herself to be needed as well. This carries with it some potential danger -- of hurt, of disappointment, of devastating loss -- but with risk often comes reward, even if it initially feels otherwise.
Surprisingly, and despite good performances, the scenes among the ladies are the movie's low points. Director and co-scripter Brett Haley paints Perlman, Squibb, and Place's characters with trite, unsubtle strokes, resorting to caricature and a little condescension. But Haley does right by Danner; she appears in nearly every frame of "I'll See You in My Dreams," likely drawing upon her own experiences as a septuagenarian widow (that's her late husband, producer Bruce Paltrow, in the mantel photos) in what is essentially a coming-of-age flick. It's definitely not middle age, not yet old age. It's whatever that in-between age is when the sunset is on the horizon but there's still enough left to rage against the dying of the light.