In writer-director Brett Haley's new film I'll See You in My Dreams, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, a widowed retiree (Blythe Danner) experiences an abrupt change in her life of routines after her dog dies and she develops relationships, of sorts, with her pool guy Lloyd (Martin Starr) and a fellow retiree (Sam Elliott). It certainly sounds like the sort of thing that was inspired by a real person. But Haley says it wasn't.
"The idea of older characters was put into my head working on another show," he says from the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton where he spoke to us after the movie screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival. "I keep getting the question about why a 30-year-old would write a movie about a 70-year-old. Everyone thinks I knew someone it was inspired by. It's not the case at all. It's completely imagined. We imagined these characters. I'm honored that people think it comes from a real place. That means they think it's real and they bought that it was something honest and truthful, which is my goal every time I make a film."
Haley says Danner was enthusiastic about playing "a guarded strong woman" who eventually reveals an emotional side.
"Blythe comes on and makes it her own," he says. "She brings it to life and brings a lot of herself to the character."
And Haley says he's well aware of the fact that the pool boy is a porn cliché.
"I always say he's a pool guy and not a pool boy," Haley says. "I wanted to play on that. It wasn't that I wanted to play directly on the porn cliché. A cliché pops up in your head and you think about it and subvert it and make it honest and real. Take the pool guy back from the porn. That's an old one anyway, and they probably don't use it much anymore. We just wanted to make it human. For that character, that's not a terrible job. It's something Lloyd could stomach."
Ultimately, Haley says he intended to show the complexity of human relationships and create a romantic film that doesn't adhere to Hollywood's sexist standards.
"If you look at the movies, the leading men are in their 40s, 50s and 60s and they keep casting women in their 20s," he says. "It's such a stupid double standard. Anytime men and women are depicted in a film, there is that question hanging over it. Rarely are they depicted as just friends. The movie is about loss. You can't go through life unscathed."