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Darling Companion

April 28, 2012
Darling Companion

Lawrence Kasdan has some real feathers in his writer’s cap; this is the man behind The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. In less geeky arenas he wrote and directed Continental Divide, The Big Chill, and The Accidental Tourist. But he hasn’t really done anything since 2003’s Dreamcatcher, which was pretty mediocre itself, and if Darling Companion is any indication he may be past his prime. While it’s not terrible, there isn’t much to recommend it either, despite the best efforts of a solid cast.

Beth Winter (Diane Keaton) and her husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) are well-off empty-nesters — “winter”, get it? — now that their second daughter, Grace (Elisabeth Moss) has gotten married at their vacation house in the mountains of Colorado. From now on it will be just the two of them; the two of them and their dog, Freeway, that is.

Beth and Grace rescued Freeway on the side of I-70 a little under a year before, on the same day Grace went from I-don’t-want-or-need-a-man graduate student to “love of my life” faster than you can spell veterinarian. Beth — emotionally mercurial at the best of times because hey, women, right? — adopted the mutt at once, though she knew Joseph wouldn’t really be too keen on the idea. Despite not being a dog person, Joseph — and don’t call him “Joe” — isn’t really a jerk because as a spinal surgeon he has to be focused and logical and have a thick skin and okay he’s pretty much a jerk all right. I mean, what sort of person can find his life complete without a dog? Or so it seems we’re supposed to think.

After Grace and her new husband head off to Bora Bora we’re down to the same formula Kasdan used in The Big Chill: get a bunch of people with various interpersonal issues together in one place and split them off into small groups until everything is as resolved as it’s going to get. Along with Beth and Joseph we have Joseph’s vaguely new-agey sister, Penny (Dianne Wiest), her new boyfriend, Russell (Richard Jenkins), her son and Joseph’s colleague, Bryan (Mark Duplass), and the erratically-accented Romani caretaker, Carmen (Ayelet Zurer). Russell isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s a sweetheart who’s good with people; he used to be in demolitions until “business blew up”, and now he’s trying to get people to invest in the first British pub in Omaha. Bryan, for his part, is alone at the wedding because his girlfriend is on some sort of professional retreat; if you don’t see him and Carmen on a collision course from the start you haven’t seen a movie in at least thirty years.

Before the group can go their separate ways, Freeway goes missing. Carmen has visions — gypsy stuff, don’t you know — and the group start pairing off on one feral dog chase after another, working out their problems as they go. I won’t deny that the film has a certain sweetness to it, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done a thousand times before. The cast are all nice enough, and they do the best they can with what they’ve got to work with, but when it comes right down to it there’s not very much there there.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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