“Darling Companion” has been undergoing a trashing from many of the nation’s film critics, who apparently deem it insipid and boring.
Sorry, guys. The wife and I (and the handful of other critics in the theater) found the latest from Lawrence Kasdan to be a funny, warm, well-acted story about aging and relationships . . . and aging relationships.
It’s not earthshaking, no. Nor is it terribly original. But I’m damned if it didn’t leave me feeling very, very good.
In many regards, “Darling Companion” forms a neat pair of bookends with Kasdan’s 1991 film, “Grand Canyon,” which explored the racial, cultural and economic divides among a diverse group of Los Angelinos.
This time around, the subject is the various stages of love as experienced by a group of Denver-ites drawn together by their love for a dog. The film begins in winter with wife and mother Beth (Diane Keaton) rescuing a stray dog she spots by the side of the interstate. She names the pooch Freeway, and quickly falls for the animal, which radiates a major love vibe.
Beth’s cell phone addicted surgeon husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) isn’t keen on having a pet, but Freeway seems to have a wondrous effect on people. Among other things, the dog is instrumental in bringing together the couple’s romantically challenged daughter, Grace (Elizabeth Moss), and a young veterinarian.
Cut to several months later. Grace and the vet are being married at the family’s summer home in the Rockies. On hand is Joseph’s sister, Penny (Dianne Wiest), and her new beau, Russell (the ever-excellent Richard Jenkins). Also attending is Penny’s son, Bryan (Mark Duplass), and the caretaker of their summer home, Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), who is an exotic European gypsy.
The screenplay by Kasdan and his wife, Meg Kasdan, establishes early on the fault lines in these relationships. Joseph and Beth’s marriage has hit the over-60 doldrums, and while he’s content with his Babbitt-ish life, she’s churning for recognition and excitement.
Joseph can barely hide his contempt for his sister’s new lover, whom he regards as a con artist only trying to get the family to invest in his latest get-rich-quick scheme (an “authentic” Irish pub in Omaha).
And Brian has come to the wedding stag because his live-in girlfriend can’t be bothered. Hmm . . . maybe that relationship’s days are numbered.
But the Kasdans throw in a very interesting twist when Freeway becomes lost in the woods and the humans spend several days searching for him, usually pairing up to hike trails and traverse mountains. Okay, so this isn’t the most original setup. In fact, it fairly creaks. We can see a mile off how these relationship roadbumps will be negotiated. Joseph and Beth will rediscover one another. Penny will defy her brother and find a soulmate in the charming and funny Richard. Bryan will develop a major love jones for the exotic Carmen. Once again, the dog has a way of bringing people together, even though we don’t see him for the bulk of the movie.
Knowing where “Darling Companion” is going (the title might refer to the dog . . . or perhaps it’s about the people in our lives) did not detract from my pleasure. Much of this has to do with the acting, which is consistently touching and amusing. The Kasdans have a good eye for human foible and a sharp ear for the stupid things we say.
They toss in an iffy woo-woo subplot involving Carmen’s assertion that she’s psychic. Throughout the film she has “visions” about Freeway, which send the others off on various goose chases. Is she really gifted, or just deluded? No telling . . . but as long as she looks like this, she can be anything she wants.