Reel Dad: Discover the overlooked ‘Our Souls at Night’

Some movies don’t deserve to disappear.
When “Our Souls at Night” premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the attention focused on the reunion of Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in their first film together since “The Electric Horseman” in 1978. But the movie never received much of a theatrical release before it disappeared and quickly moved online to Netflix, where it again disappeared.
But “Our Souls at Night” is worth searching for on Netflix.

This gentle, insightful, moving look at the empty lives that people can experience later in life touches the heart with its sincerity and simplicity. Yes, the film can move somewhat slowly, as do some people after a certain age, but it’s well worth a patient viewing. “Our Souls at Night” opens our eyes to the connections that people need at any age, and how challenging finding such relationships can be as the years pass.
We meet Addie Moore and Louis Waters, two widowed neighbors in a small Colorado town who have casually said hello to each other for years. Neither of them has had the courage to initiate a connection until, one evening, Addie makes Louis a unique offer. What if Louis would come over each night and simply sleep in her bed, in a platonic way, to hopefully fill the empty hours between late evening and early morning. Interested, curious, perhaps amused at first, Louis agrees, and the two begin a most unusual journey to the emotional bond that friendship can bring.
What makes the film so engaging is how director Ritesh Batra avoids most of the clichés that could harm such a gentle narrative. There are no bruising arguments as two people express their anger, or significant clashes as they explore the layers they so carefully hide. Rather the film feels like a conversation that grows over time as two people discover how good it can feel to give, to explore, to listen, and to reveal layers they find themselves so anxious to share.
As much as the film explores Addie and Louis, it also takes time to develop other relationships in their lives, especially an extended visit from Addie’s young grandson. Batra treats these scenes with real care, especially in his work with child actor Iain Armitage, giving the sequences a touching sense of spontaneity, as two older people rediscover their love for family through caring for this somewhat forgotten child.

Of course, anyone who likes these actors will enjoy their time on screen. Fonda and Redford have always displayed a unique chemistry, from their first pairings in the 1960s in “Hurry, Sundown” and “Barefoot in the Park.” While Redford easily slips into the no-nonsense presence that Louis brings, the role of Addie gives Fonda more of a chance to dig into a character than she has had on screen in many years. She instantly reminds us why we like her work, her authenticity, her passion, her ability to make the most of each small moment. How marvelous for this legendary actress, at age 81, to be in such a prime time in her career. And our movie lives are the richer for her good fortune.
Yes, some movies disappear. But thanks to online streaming, they can be discovered. And this one is worth looking for.

Film Nutritional Value: Our Souls at Night

Content : High. This look at the friendship between two people offers a thoughtful exploration of how it can feel to age with grace.
Entertainment : High. Thanks to the legendary stars, and an insightful script, the film has quite a bit to say about what it takes to thrive as we age.
Message : Medium. While the film entertains before it informs, we are left with a clear view of what it takes to connect and grow with someone.
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.
“Our Souls at Night,” rated TV-14, runs 1 hour, 43 minutes. Streaming on Netflix.

Cherish the magic of ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’

  If earthquakes in California or futuristic lands at Disney theme parks don’t inspire you to go to the movies, check out another special film about senior citizens trying to make the most out of their lives.

While you won’t see wide-screen explosions or computer-generated effects at I’ll See You In My Dreams — and its budget is a fraction of those big screen entries — this touching story about the choices people can make as they age is generous, tender and wonderfully entertaining. Much like “Our Souls at Night,” the film explores the potential for people in later years to connect.

The lovely Blythe Danner is perfectly cast as Carol, a widow who is content with her dog, her golf, her friends and her 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 routine 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. Or if she’s so defined by her routine that she has lost the ability to be spontaneous. As she works her way through unexpected entanglements she begins to realize that, especially at later ages, people must take control over their lives to fully experience the joys of their lives.

A story this delicate could get gooey in the wrong hands. But writer/director Brett Haley, with writer Marc Basch, brings an endearing matter-of-fact quality to the highs and lows his characters experience to make the incidents feel authentic. Even when Carol begins to get to know a much-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 wisely focus on Carol. Rather than try to tell the story from all points of view, they use the supporting characters to enhance the woman’s reluctance to examine her life. And they make us believe in what the future can bring even when trust the wind and take a chance or two.

For Danner, the film offers a role of a later lifetime, as she brings her extensive theater and movie experience to create a compelling woman who refuses to acknowledge how interesting she can be. What makes Carol so interesting is how ordinary she considers her life. And, because Danner so beautifully portrays the routine that rules Carol’s life, we discover the opportunities she may not see. Plus she delivers us a splendid interpretation of “Cry Me a River” when Carol visits a karaoke bar. The actress and her character receive solid support from veteran actresses Mary Kay Place, June Squibb and Rhea Pearlman as well as the always-reliable Sam Elliott as a man who believes in living for the moment at any age.

“I’ll See You In My Dreams,” like “Our Souls at Night,” looks at the realities and challenges of growing older. And because Carol lives a life that many would consider ordinary, she reminds us how extraordinary life can be, even when we age.

“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. It is streaming online.