'I’ll See You in My Dreams': Brett Haley’s Promising Start That Begins With Sundance Hit

Ellie Wells ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor

Sam Elliot, Blythe Danner, Brett Haley, Martin Starr, Malin Akerman and Rhea Perlman for I'll See You in My Dreams. Photo Credit: IndieWire
Sam Elliot, Blythe Danner, Brett Haley, Martin Starr, Malin Akerman and Rhea Perlman for I’ll See You in My Dreams. Photo Credit: IndieWire
In a conference room in the Colonnade Hotel, Brett Haley, the director of the recent Sundance hit I’ll See You in My Dreams, eagerly talks to journalists as they go in and out. He’s proud of his latest directorial effort, and with good reason. The film, which centers around the existential crisis of a woman in her early seventies, has so far received critical acclaim.
There are a lot of coming of age films, films about mid-life crises, but you don’t see a lot of films that focus on senior citizens. What made you want to tell this story? 
Well, I think the films that are about that age group are kind of broad and for the most part they pander to an audience. Every film I set out to make, I want it to be authentic and honest, about real people, doing real things. No matter what the film is, what the genre is, that’s my goal because that’s what’s important to me when I see a film. For instance, Jurassic Park is authentic and honest even though it’s about dinosaurs, so you can do it in any film. I never thought of it as, “I’m going to make this movie about older people”. That was never my intention. My intention was to explore some themes that was interested in, mostly about loss and death. Kind of dark themes, but I thought that this woman would be the best way into the story. I’m not a seventy year old woman, but I was curious to what a seventy year old woman is feeling right now. I was interested in those feelings and emotions, so I wanted to put myself in the shoes of someone who is not me and see what it felt like.
And it felt very authentic. I have a grandmother that age and the whole time I was thinking that she would love it. 
Hopefully because she’d be able to relate to it! But it’s nice to see a young person responding to it. Because I think you should have empathy when you go to the movies; you should learn about people that are not like you.

Absolutely. Even though the focus of this film is a seventy year old woman, I thought that there was a lot that younger people could relate to as well.

Well, Martin [Starr] is there.
One of the most emotionally compelling aspects was actually that relationship that Carol has with the pool cleaner (Starr). What did that represent to you?
I think it’s the heart of the movie, actually. I think it represents an unlikely friendship and love. It’s a different kind of love. I think they are two lost souls that find each other but it doesn’t have to be romantic. I wanted to talk about the fact that in society an older person and a younger person aren’t normally friends. Society would be like, that’s weird, when it shouldn’t be. I think younger people can learn a lot from younger people and vice versa; that’s a lot more interesting relationship than just being friends with people who are your age.
I thought the relationship she has with her daughter is very interesting. It’s implied that they’re somewhat estranged, and then their bond is able to deepen by the end of the film. 
I don’t think you want Malin [Ackermann]’s character to be this perfect daughter. For Marc [Basch] and I it was important to write it real. She doesn’t call that much, they don’t talk all the time. They’re not super close anymore. People drift, they live their own lives, that’s what happens, but they love each other. We wanted to involve a little nuance and difficulty because I think that’s what relationships are like. I don’t think anyone has a perfect relationship ever with a family member. Again, it goes back to being authentic and honest.
Brett Haley and Blythe Danner.
Brett Haley and Blythe Danner.
At the beginning of the film Carol says, “If my daughter were married, if she’d had children, things would be different” but at the end she’s her support line. 
Absolutely. I think we all get wrapped up in our own worlds and we forget that there are other people who are key to your livelihood. So, I think it’s nice for Blythe [Danner]’s character to remember that there is someone that loves her and is there for her.
Was there any significance to making Carol a former singer?
It has a lot of significance. It plays into Martin [Starr]’s situation in that he’s a poet and a musician as well and he’s a pool cleaner. There’s this idea that you can love something, especially an art form, and that’s a hard thing to do. It’s a hard thing to be successful at. I’m a filmmaker. I go through it. The odds are against you. These are people who were artists and had something to say and express and they didn’t necessarily make it but it doesn’t mean that they’re unworthy, it doesn’t mean that they are less than. It’s a tough thing to be an artist in this world. Most people have to give it up. I think it’s about that struggle and that journey and I wanted that to be a part of the film. I think it helps inform who these people are and why they connect. It’s something I think about a lot because a lot of my friends are going through it, I’m going through it. It’s hard to make a living doing something in the arts.
So how that has been for you, to see the tremendous response to this film?
It’s been amazing. I’ve overwhelmed that it’s coming out in theaters and that people seem to really respond to it. It’s a dream come true, but of course it brings out a whole new level of stresses; will it do well at the box office? Will critics like it? Will I get to do another one? I’m trying really hard to just be in the moment and be proud of what I made and know that it’s exactly what I set out to make. I’m trying to be in the moment, but as Carol says in the movie, “what does that even mean?” I’m basically just trying to enjoy it, and I am. It’s really amazing when people come up to me and tell me what they think of the movie, that they laughed, they cried, they laughed so hard that they cried. I’m really lucky. I’ve worked hard to get here, but I’m really lucky.
Brett Haley. Photo Credit: IndieWire
Brett Haley. Photo Credit: IndieWire
The performances in this film were very strong across the board. How did you go about casting? Did you find everyone by chance?
No, they were all very specifically chosen for the roles. Everyone in the film was my first choice. So, these are people I really saw for each role and to my delight they all said yes. It was a very natural process of going through my casting director to their agents, they read the script, they met me and they said yes. None of them made any money, so it wasn’t about that. The movie’s extremely low budget. So they all wanted to be there for the right reasons.
You’ve directed one other feature called The New Year – five years ago now. This film has had tremendous success at Sundance and now it’s being released in theaters, so, how did that first experience differ from this one? 
I think [on The New Year] I learned what was really important to a film, which is performance and script, so I think I carried that with me to this film even though it was on a larger level with name actors and a full crew. But you’ve got to keep that spirit alive of putting the performances first and I think that came from making The New Year on a small scale.
What does the future look like for you right now?
Well, we’re going to see this one through and hope that it gets out there to the world in a big way, and I hope the success of this can lead to more work. I love to be on set, I love to direct, I love to write, I love to edit, so I just love to get to a place where I can make a living doing that. So hopefully I’m moving up the mountain to get there.
I’ll See You in My Dreams is in limited release. Read our review of it here.

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