INTERVIEW: Brett Haley, co-writer and director of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”

12 06 2015

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) has produced many a successful alumni from its film program: David Gordon Green, Jeff Nichols, Craig Zobel … and now, Brett Haley.  In the decade since his graduation in 2005, Haley’s had quite the wild ride – making short films, working as assistant to an established director, and cobbling together a debut feature on a few thousand.  Now, he’s garnering serious mainstream attention for his second film, “I’ll See You In My Dreams.”

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it found warm audience support as well as a distributor, the upstart new label Bleecker Street.  Prior to its May 15 release, the film hit the regional festival circuit hard; I got the chance to speak to Haley prior to a very special screening at his alma mater back in April.

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Brett Haley (center)

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REVIEW: I’ll See You In My Dreams

25 04 2015

I'll See You In My DreamsRiverRun International Film Festival

I’ll See You In My Dreams” features something increasingly rare in movies these days: an elderly protagonist.  (Writer/director Brett Haley just turned 30, which makes the film even more of a welcome oddity.)  Blythe Danner stars as Carol Petersen, a graying widow who resists moving into a home despite tons of social pressure from her bridge group.  Living in her own house grants her a certain sense of freedom and control that she stubbornly resists ceding to anyone.

But over the course of the film, Carol finds herself opening up in ways she has not in decades thanks to the entry of two men into her life.  The first, Sam Elliott’s Bill, assumes the role of a traditional gentleman suitor, drawing Carol into intimate situations she has avoided for decades.  The second, Martin Starr’s poolboy Lloyd, marks a decidedly more platonic bond; the two simply enjoy each other’s company and conversation.

Carol never gets explicitly romantically courted by Lloyd, although a few sparks definitely fly between them.  Thankfully, Haley resists exploitative territory with their relationship, just allowing it to shed light on what both parties have to gain from intergenerational communication.  Carol and Lloyd share some beautiful, sweet moments together in “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” and their exchanges are the kind of thing that deserve imitation and replication in mainstream cinema.

Since Carol does not technically involve herself in a love triangle, a comparison to “It’s Complicated” seems like a bit of a stretch.  But her dual male companions, the occasional ribald interlude (mostly with her bridge girls played by June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, and Mary Kay Place), and the keen emotional insight into one woman’s complex experience recall what writer/director Nancy Meyers does so well.  In its pared-down specificity, Haley’s “I’ll See You In My Dreams” delights and charms to a similar degree as the Streep-starrer.  B+3stars





REVIEW: Little Fockers

14 08 2011

I don’t have much to say in regards to “Little Fockers.”  It’s a tacked-on sequel that has all the same characters as its two predecessors but little of its humor.  The movie will inevitably be dwarfed in comparison to the two titans of the series, but you get a few more laughs out of the Byrne-Focker “circle of trust” and some people at Universal made a lot of money.  It’s a bittersweet win-win, right?

In case you hadn’t noticed that Robert DeNiro has fallen far and sold out since his legendary pairing with director Martin Scorsese, “Little Fockers” gives the two-time Oscar winner the chance do a tongue in cheek mockery of himself.  35 years ago, he was the younger version of the Godfather.  Now, he’s searching for – the worst pun of the series – the Godfocker!  At least DeNiro can let it roll off his back and joke about it as the series that once could have anyone rollicking in laughter – even on TBS reruns – resorts to straight-to-DVD territory.

Unlike “Meet the Parents” (and “Meet the Fockers” to a lesser extent), which tackled relevant and relatable social topics in a funny but truthful way, “Little Fockers” goes for potty humor and adolescent immaturity to hide the changing landscape of the series.  With a new director, a new writer, and a total lack of effort, these aren’t the same Fockers.  But as Hollywood has yet to learn, you can’t hide a lack of enthusiasm from all corners on a movie set.  Even when you throw in a beauty like Jessica Alba or enhance the role of funnyman Owen Wilson, people notice when they aren’t laughing in a comedy movie.

So if you’re willing to dumb yourself down a little or happen to be in the mood for guilty, stupid laughs, “Little Fockers” may lightly graze your funnybone.  But the heyday of this series is long in the past, as are the glory days of Robert DeNiro.  Wait, I think I see his self-respect in the rearview mirror as well!  C+ /