When watching a movie like Darling Companion, it’s hard to remember that co-writer and director Lawrence Kasdan is the man who not only wrote two Star Wars movies, but also Raiders of the Lost Ark. I know a person’s art ebbs, flows and changes as the years pass but just how did we get from “Luke, I am your Father” to a rambling story about a bunch of middle-aged empty nesters wandering through the forest looking for a lost dog?
I suppose in this case, art imitates life in that the film is apparently based on the Kasdans’ (Lawrence co-wrote with his wife Meg) experience of losing their own dog in the Colorado Rockies. Given the right screenwriters, the scenario could have been a great jumping off point for some interesting drama. As it stands however, the film is a study in good intentions without much depth for the audience to wade into.
The story centres around Beth (Diane Keaton), a fifty-something woman who’s struggling to suppress her maternal instincts now that her daughters are settled into lives of their own (one is married with child in New York and the other [Elisabeth Moss] is in grad school). One day Beth rescues a dog abandoned on the side of the highway. She names him Freeway and despite protests from her grumpy doctor husband Joseph (Kevin Kline), adopts him as the new recipient of her unused mothering skills.
A year later, Beth and Joseph host their younger daughter’s wedding at their Telluride retreat and after sending the couple off on their honeymoon, they decide to stay for the day along with some of the leftover wedding guests. The guests include Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her odd date Russell (Richard Jenkins – perfection as always); Penny’s son Bryan (Mark Duplass), who works with Joseph; and their self proclaimed-psychic housekeeper Carmen (Ayelet Zurer). As everyone desperately tries to get along with one another, Freeway bounds off after a deer while on a walk with Joseph and Beth refuses to leave without her beloved pet.
The group pairs off to form a search party which provides a perfect opportunity for the constantly quarreling family members to air their grievances and attempt to reconnect while they look for Freeway: most notably Joseph and Beth, polar opposites in the way they deal with their emotions, who find a way to bond over the course of their night in the woods.
Kasdan has created a serviceable enough adult drama that doesn’t try to create a heightened sense of importance about the conflicts and issues that come with middle age. Sure, a better movie would utilize the wealth of on-screen talent available to mine some real truths or plot out situations that aren’t one step away from appearing in some CBS sitcom, yet the fact that we know everything will eventually turn out fine makes all of that strangely tolerable.
It’s just too bad that it’s so hard to get really invested in the characters or their problems. The story often lacks focus and the supposedly witty banter between the actors often falls flat. The film is clearly meant to be a pleasantly inoffensive time waster for the early bird special set (and an easy pay cheque for the Kasdans?) — everyone else will think it’s for the dogs.