Who let the dog out?
Diane Keaton and her “Darling Companion” in the latest film from Lawrence Kasdan, director of “The Big Chill” and “Grand Canyon.”
Updated: April 26, 2012 8:44PM
★ ★ 1/2
Unlike the dog that motivates the plot of this baby-boomer dramedy from Lawrence “Big Chill” Kasdan, “Darling Companion” never entirely loses its way. But the emotional territory it sniffs and explores is only mildly diverting at best.
There’s every reason to expect it might have been better. “Darling” assembles an excellent ensemble cast of aging actors led by Kevin Kline (also featured in Kasdan’s “Chill” and “ Grand Canyon,” both predecessors in an informal boomer trilogy) and Diane Keaton. It’s also apparently based on a personal experience Kasdan shared with his wife Meg (who co-wrote the screenplay) when their adopted dog got lost in the Rockies and they spent three weeks searching for him together.
Unfortunately, whatever life lessons were learned during the Kasdan search-and-rescue mission have been translated into an only modestly affecting personal growth resulting from an only moderately alarming crisis. With a handful of warm, fuzzy love stories, a thin veneer of snappy one-liners and heaps of gorgeous Colorado scenery to maintain interest.
It all works, reasonably well, but only if your expectations are low and you have the patience to allow a first-rate cast to squeeze what charm they can out of an assortment of nice, likable, thinly drawn, not-particularly-interesting characters.
At the heart of the whole bland melange is Freeway, a scruffy dog rescued while wandering along an expressway by hyper-emotional empty-nester mom and grandmom Beth (Keaton). Freeway kicks off the film’s first love story (excluding Beth’s head-over-heels attraction to his own scruffy canine charms) when Beth’s fairly obnoxious grad-student daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men”) falls for sexy veterinarian Sam (Jay Ali).
A year later, Grace and Sam are getting married in the Colorado vacation home of Beth and Joseph (Kline), a somewhat arrogant, work-obsessed spinal surgeon who is perpetually annoyed by Beth’s emotional “over-reacting.” Also on hand are Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins), Penny’s son and Joseph’s surgical partner Bryan (Mark Duplass), Joseph’s exotic gypsy caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), and Sam Shepard as a crotchety sheriff.
The wedding goes well, but then Joseph lets Freeway run off into the woods and disappear, leading to a total meltdown from Grace, who sees this as the epitome of years of her husband’s self-absorption and neglect. A concerted effort by all hands (including gruffly reluctant Joseph) to find the canine runaway ensues.
Actors of the caliber of Kline and Keaton and Wiest and Jenkins and Shepard are almost guaranteed to find a way to enliven any story, and that’s what happens in “Darling Companion.” Though it’s difficult not to think of better films in which all of them were employed to much, much better effect.
Chances are good they could have wrung just as much interest out of a group reading of AARP magazine.