Mark Reviews Movies

Darling Companion

DARLING COMPANION

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Mark Duplass, Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest, Ayelet Zurer, Elisabeth Moss, Sam Shepard

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content including references, and language)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 4/20/12 (limited); 4/27/12 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 26, 2012

Darling Companion is barely half as charming as it imagines itself to be. The movie concerns a lost dog—a traumatic event for any dog lover, especially one who feels neglected by the person to whom she's supposed to be closest—and the way the missing canine brings together a group of family members and friends on thin ice. Co-screenwriters Lawrence and Meg Kasdan (a husband-wife team, with Lawrence directing) have a sympathetic view of these people despite of or because of their faults, and, as admirable a trait as that is in theory, no amount of sympathy for these characters can compensate for the fact that they are unremarkable people.

The situation in which they find themselves doesn't help much, either. It's too perfectly suited to high-stakes, revelatory dialogue followed by long stretches of awkward companionship—more like a choreographed version of an argument and its aftereffects than a real one. There's something too convenient about the script's group dynamics, setting up a sextet of characters, each with some unresolved issue that another either exasperates or could help resolve (except for one character in the group, who seems present only to complete the trio of couples). One might wonder how something as simple as a group of people talking and fighting can come across so contrived; perhaps taking into account that one of them is a Romani (or, in common parlance, "Gypsy") psychic who has extrasensory experiences about the dog will help put those curiosities to rest.

Beth (Diane Keaton) is beginning to find her life to be a little less than fulfilling. One of her daughters is married, has a son, and lives in New York City, which is a world away from her life in Utah. When that daughter leaves after a too-short visit, only her other daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) can console her; Beth's husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) is a busy spinal surgeon with little understanding or patience for his wife's occasional moments of emotion. Grace puts his personality in not so delicate terms. Beth scolds her for it, but we get the feeling she agrees with her daughter.

On the drive home from the airport, Beth spots a dog on the side of the freeway. Alone, cold, and wounded, the poor creature is slowly dying, so Beth and Grace put it in the car and bring it to a local veterinarian (Jay Ali) who exchanges flirtatious glances with Grace. The dog needs a home, the vet tells them; a shelter will have a hard time finding someone to adopt it and likely put the animal down. Beth takes it home to the dismay of Joseph, who doesn't want a dog. She names it Freeway.

A year passes, and, at Beth and Joseph's vacation home in the mountains, Grace marries the vet. Also on hand are Bryan (Mark Duplass), who is Joseph's co-worker and nephew, Penny (Dianne Wiest), who is Joseph's sister, and Russell (Richard Jenkins), who is her boyfriend with plans to open an English pub (He's looking for investors). Later that day, Joseph takes Freeway for a walk, and the dog runs away while Joseph is preoccupied with a work call.

This is a travesty for Beth, and it only makes things worse that the dog is missing because of Joseph's attention to work over everything else in his life. Eventually, they all split into pairs to start looking, swapping partners in the search each day. It will, of course, come to pass that Beth and Joseph will be paired up to look for Freeway, and all the bitterness between them will come to surface. In case the whole situation weren't uncomfortable enough, they become lost in the woods.

Speaking of uncomfortable situations, Bryan and Russell are teamed up on one occasion and visit a local recluse (Robert Bear) who collects stray dogs. They look around the man's property, to the his consternation, and somehow wind up with Russell on the hermit's back, commenting on how badly he needs a shower, as Bryan pokes around in his house. The movie is a comedy, we suppose, because even the worst of scenarios turns to anticlimax or an easy solution (A scene in which Joseph dislocates his shoulder is probably the sole exception, but, remember, he's a doctor). One has to wonder, though, where the humor of the scene with recluse actually is, mostly because of Kasdan's stiff staging and pacing.

It's all an excuse to force these relatively simplistic characters together to work through their tensions. Beth and Joseph's marriage is in trouble. Bryan doesn't particularly like the man who will probably marry his mother. Penny shows up in scenes to be in them. Bryan also wonders whether is relationship with an unseen girlfriend is worth the effort of her obsession with work. This is where Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), the house's caretaker and resident psychic, comes into play for reasons other than to have visions of Freeway's exploits and insist to the group that need to have hope.

One has to wonder if the machinations of Darling Companion would have seemed as obvious without the psychic. One thing's for sure: With her, they're pretty transparent.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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