If movies about earthquakes or theme parks don’t inspire you to buy tickets, check out a special film about people trying to make the most out of their lives. While you won’t see wide-screen explosions or computer-generated effects in I’ll See You In My Dreams — and its budget is a fraction of what epics cost — this touching story about the choices we make as we age is generous, tender and wonderfully entertaining.

The lovely Blythe Danner is perfectly cast as Carol, a widow who is content with her dog, golf, friends and daily glass (or two) of wine. But she hasn’t challenged herself in years, in her routine or her relationships. Though she sets an alarm for 6 a.m. each morning, she awakens to the same schedule day after day. So when she faces a few surprising situations, from a rodent in the house to new men in her life, she wonders if she still has what it takes to make the most of the unexpected. As Carol works her way through unexpected entanglements she begins to realize that, especially at later ages, people must take control of their lives to fully experience the joys that time can bring.

A story this delicate could get gooey in the wrong hands. But writer/director Brett Haley, along with writer Marc Basch, brings an endearing matter-of-fact quality to the highs and lows their characters experience. Even when Carol begins to get to know a younger pool man — or responds to the interest expressed by someone closer to her age — Haley and Basch refuse to overplay the obvious complications. Instead they take unexpected turns with these relationships as they focus on Carol’s attempts to be spontaneous. By making this woman so interesting, and using the supporting characters to reveal her reluctance to reinvent her life, the creators make us believe in what the future can bring if we trust the wind and take a chance or two.

For Danner, the film offers a role of a later lifetime, as she uses her extensive theater and movie experience to create a compelling woman who refuses to acknowledge how interesting she can be. Because Danner so beautifully portrays the familiar that shapes Carol’s life, she reveals the opportunities this woman may not see. Plus the actress delivers a splendid interpretation of Cry Me a River when Carol visits a karaoke bar. Danner and her character receive solid support from such veteran actors as Mary Kay Place, June Squibb and Rhea Pearlman as her friends and the always-reliable Sam Elliott as a man who believes in living for the moment.

I’ll See You In My Dreams is another of this year’s movies that look at the realities and challenges of growing older. While The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Five Flights Up rely on situations to detail their issues, this film lets its characters tell the story. And because Danner is so extraordinary playing an ordinary life, she challenges us to imagine what living can be, at any age.

Film Nutritional Value

I’ll See You In My Dreams

* Content: High. This look at one woman’s life offers a thoughtful exploration of how it can feel to age with grace.

* Entertainment: High. Thanks to a delightful cast, and an insightful script, the film has quite a bit to say about what it takes to thrive as we age.

* Message: High. While the film entertains before it informs, we are left with a clear view of what it takes to age with grace.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce our families to the issues of aging is a welcome visit to the movies.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your family, talk with your children about the realities of getting older each year.

(I’ll See You In My Dreams is rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug use and brief strong language. The film runs 92 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets

Behind the Screen: Reel Moments with Blythe Danner

Thank goodness that I’ll See You In My Dreams gives Blythe Danner the chance to make movie magic.

As a woman wondering what her life can become, Danner makes us believe in what an actress can create when she brings discipline and imagination to a rich character. And, for more than 40 years, she has graced movie screens while also delivering lovely performances on television and the theater.

Danner first attracted attention on the big screen as Martha Jefferson in the film version of 1776 in 1972, three years after winning a Tony Award for her work on Broadway in Butterflies Are Free. Although the musical movie – about signing the Declaration of Independence in, yes, 1776 – failed to excite audiences on screen as it did on stage, Danner’s lovely presence enhances the proceedings. And her singing of He Plays the Violin reveals a lovely voice we get to hear in her new film, too.

The actress caught fire on television in the 1970s, too, casting a spell as Zelda Fitzgerald in the TV film F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Last of the Belles as well as having fun as an exaggerated heroine of the Wild West in Sidekicks. She returned to the big screen with a lovely portrayal of a strong woman balancing the affections of two Texans in Lovin’ Molly, based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, and a fun supporting turn in the comedy Hearts of the West before returning to television to deliver a heart breaking turn as the supportive wife of a stricken baseball player in A Love Affair, The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story.

As she continued to steadily work in the theater and television, Danner developed a niche on film in supporting roles in complex family situations. As the wife of an intense Marine pilot in The Great Santini in 1979, based on the book by Pat Conroy, Danner is beautifully subdued as a woman who tries to nurture her son while standing by her husband even though the tension between them is almost too much for her to handle. And in The Prince of Tides, also from a book by Conroy, she scores a strong impression as the bitter spouse of a confused man who seeks the support of his sister’s psychiatrist. Danner is so good you wish director Barbra Streisand had given her more scfeen time.

Small but effective roles in many films – including Mr. and Mrs. Bridge and Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives continued along with work on television and stage until she hit a comic nerve as a lovely but bewildered mother of the bride in Meet the Parents in 2000. She hits all the right notes as a matriarch who wants the best for her daughter while keeping her husband’s suspicions of the groom in check. She is equally fun in the sequel, Meet the Fockers, in 2004 and, on television, in such series as Will and Grace, Huff, Nurse Jackie and Up All Night.

Throughout her career, Danner has made her real mark is on stage where she secures the range of roles that, up to now, movies have inconsistently tapped. From her magical Broadway performances in Betrayal, The Philadelphia Story, Blithe Story and A Streetcar Named Desire in the 1980s as well as appearances at the Wiliamstown Theater Festival in Picnic, The Seagull and Tonight, the actress magically projects the inner drive of every character she creates. She was a magnetic Phyllis in the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies on Broadway in 2001 and, last season, the delightful leader of a show business family in The Country House.

Now, in I’ll See You In My Dreams, the movies finally catch up with the theater to recognize and reward this marvelous actress with a role that reaches every layer of her talent. On screen for most of the 92 minutes of the film, she never overstays her welcome. We want to hear that lovely husky voice, and look into those deep eyes, for a very long time.

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