By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Blythe Danner has spent the vast majority of her career acting in support of others or as an ensemble player on the stage and screens, big and small.

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For a time, she was recognized primarily as the wife of producer-director Bruce Paltrow.  For another stretch of time, she was identified as the mother of Oscar-winning actress (Shakespeare in Love) Gwyneth Paltrow.

Meanwhile, she collected a Tony and a couple of Emmy awards.

So it’s gratifying, especially this late in the game, to see this luminous septuagenarian actress get top billing — and the romantic lead at that.

 

(3 stars out of 4)

(3 stars out of 4)

 

In I’ll See You in My Dreams, Danner plays a lonely, independent widow, Carol Peterson, a retired schoolteacher and ex-singer still in mourning twenty years later and now also recovering from the death of her beloved dog.

She makes a long-delayed return to the dating arena after being encouraged by her group of bridge-playing friends (played by Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, and Mary Kay Place) who live in a retirement village and feel that she should, too.

And while the senior-speed-dating scene isn’t exactly satisfying, she finds herself involved, in one manner or another, with two men: the much younger struggling musician who cleans her pool, played by Martin Starr, and an age-appropriate, cigar-chomping, most-eligible-bachelor baritone, played by Sam Elliott with a charismatic twinkle.

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But Carol remains reluctant to vary her longstanding routines regardless of how bored or isolated or curious she might be.

At this stage of life, however, events just might conspire to force change on her, no matter how unwilling she may be to embrace it or how reluctant she may be to open up to life’s late possibilities.

The dictates of the summer movie season notwithstanding, there’s no reason that movies like this — that explore aging, mourning, and romancing among folks of age — shouldn’t pop up now and again on the movie marketplace.

And not that this affable dramedy isn’t primarily targeted to the underserved senior audience, but its artistry and appeal should strike a universal chord.

Director Brett Haley (The New Year), who co-wrote the screenplay (along with Marc Basch) with Danner in mind, embraces the romcom conventions but applies them to senior citizens and breathes what feels like new life into them.

But it’s not only Carol’s romantic life that Haley addresses.  The elusively graceful segue into the retirement years is also on the menu, as is Carol’s reconciliation with her daughter, played by Malin Akerman.

Danner proves to be fully deserving of the spotlight, delivering an emotionally authentic portrait that brims with subtlety and pathos.  What her sly, understated style and immediate likeability fit most snugly and productively are the awkward situations — including speed dating, karaoke singing, and pot smoking — that provide a pleasing alternative to the conventions of the blustery warm-weather blockbusters.

So we’ll age 3 stars out of 4 for the humorous and poignant I’ll See You in My Dreams, a character-driven charmer with more than its share of Blythe spirit.

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