Darling Companion: Film Review

Lawrence Kasdan’s pleasant dramedy boasts a prized ensemble but lacks bite.

Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline and Dianne Wiest star in a soul-searching piece about a stray dog that alters the lives of a family that grows distant.

Lawrence Kasdan’s first feature in nine years, Darling Companion marks a return to the sort of soul-searching ensemble piece that has served him well, but, while superbly acted, the dramedy plays out like a tepid Big Chill at best.

Penned by Kasdan and his wife, Meg (the pair previously collaborated on 1991’s Grand Canyon), this soft-hearted take on life, love and relationships lacks a more incisive edge to compensate for a well worn premise involving a stray dog who alters a family’s dynamics in unexpected ways.

Handed its world premiere at the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the SPC release will likely have limited appeal among more mature, female-skewing audiences when it opens this spring.

Diane Keaton is in fine, relatable form as Beth Winter, a Denver denizen of a certain age facing empty nest syndrome and a longtime marriage to, Joseph, a self-involved surgeon (Kasdan muse Kevin Kline), that’s growing more distant by the minute.

She’s helped out of her rut with the discovery of an injured, mangy mutt she and her daughter, Grace (Elisabeth Moss) discover at the side of a freeway, whom Beth takes in and names, natch, Freeway.

But when Freeway goes missing in the mountainous landscape surrounding the couple’s vacation home, various long-harbored resentments are aired among the paired-off members of the search party, including Joseph’s sister, (the always welcome Dianne Wiest), her gregarious new boyfriend (Richard Jenkins) and Joseph’s nephew (Mark Duplass).

Despite receiving psychic leads from Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), an enigmatic, exotic young woman of Gypsy stock—she’s the kind of person who can find signs and meanings in a pan of sizzling bacon—Beth and Joseph ultimately get lost in the woods.

They’re not the only ones.

Despite the proven set-up, the Kasdans’ meandering script never finds a satisfying path around its’ oft-traveled “family members facing off at a vacation home” terrain, instead taking a too predictable route to resolution.

It would have also have been nice to see a fresher approach to characters, other than, say, the beautiful, mysterious Gypsy whose oblique visions may be disguising deeper, ulterior motives.

Might we ever see a plain-Jane, straight-talking Gypsy for a change?

Still Kasdan’s seasoned ensemble skillfully manages to make the archetypes their own; while the production values are anything but dog-eared.

Especially easy on the eyes is Michael McDonough’s warm cinematography, which bathes those rustic Rocky Mountain locations (provided by Utah) in inviting burnished oranges and golds.

Opens: Friday, April 20 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production companies: Werc Werk Works, Kasdan Pictures, Likely Story
Cast: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ayelet Zurer
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Screenwriters: Meg Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Lawrence Kasdan, Elizabeth Redleaf
Executive Producers: Meg Kasdan,
John J. Kelly, Christine Kunewa Walker
Director of photography: Michael McDonough
Production designer: Dina Goldman
Music: James Newton Howard
Costume designer: Molly Maginnis
Editor: Carol Littleton
Rating: PG-13, 103 minutes