Review: DARLING COMPANION - Doggonit, Kasdan...!
All geeks will forever owe Lawrence Kasdan a debt of gratitude for his Lucasfilm screenwriting legacy alone (EMPIRE, JEDI, RAIDERS). That's aside from his satisfyingly solid directorial career (including BODY HEAT, THE BIG CHILL, SILVERADO, and GRAND CANYON). For a time, the man was one of the most prolific and, from a genre point of view, diverse filmmakers working in the eye of the mainstream Hollywood storm. Then, about nine years ago, he suddenly stopped. Whether it was the atrociously received DREAMCATCHER or the blip-on-the-radar MUMFORD or the changing face of the business itself, Kasdan found himself off the grid. Until now.
With DARLING COMPANION, aka THE LAWRENCE KASDAN LOST DOG MOVIE, he teams with his wife, Meg Kasdan, to tell their own true-life tale of how a days-long trauma of losing their beloved pet dog in the mountains proved to be a therapeutic bonding experience for them. Kasdan has claimed to be interested in exploring the deep bond between pets and their owners with this film - an intriguing enough notion - but on screen, we have no real proof of that. Instead, we have an irritating clan of wealthy bubble-dwellers led by matriarchal Diane Keaton (up to her old tricks, annoyingly) and Kasdan perennial Kevin Kline wandering through the woods for days, stopping the steady flow of pained wisecracks only to repeatedly call out for the missing pooch ("Freeway...! Freeway...! Here, Freeway!!"). (Necessary Backstory: Keaton's character first discovers the dog abandoned off the side of the freeway. So that explains the name, although knowing the premise of the film beforehand, I wondered if this was maybe a flash-forward of some sort. No such luck...)
Once the dog disappears out of their lives, he disappears out of the movie, leaving us abandoned with these irritating individuals. Kasdan opts to shelf sentimentality in favor of light comedy, perhaps the conventionally wiser choice, but also not the right one - which leaves one to wonder if there's a better movie in this material at all. I'm inclined to think that there is, as I for one admit to being an easy target when it comes to emotional stories of people and their beloved animals. So when I'm sitting there looking at my watch and wishing that they'd all just get lost in the woods for good, you know there's a problem. (My personal highlight of the screening? When my two year old accidentally placed an "urgent call" to my cell phone, justifying me exiting the theater for a minute or two. In that time I was tempted to take a cue from ol' Freeway and meander off myself...) We're told that the situation is urgent enough to shelve everyone's lives and careers waiting to resumed at home in the city, but all we're ever shown is strained inconvenience, never heartbreak. The only indication of affect is Diane Keaton's character's shift from the typically grating autopilot Diane Keaton to a clammed up bundle of nerves - a worthy exchange for the dog.
The film is eventually reduced to a series of wild goose chases based upon a gypsy woman's (Ayelet Zurer) crackpot "visions", the dog the only one with enough sense to disappear out of this film. Not so fortunate are Kline, Diane Wiest, Sam Shepard, and top billed Mark Duplass - the famed "mumblecore" filmmaker, no doubt thrilled to be starring in a Lawrence Kasdan picture with a budget far exceeding his own tiny endeavors, even if, for Kasdan, this is his personal low budget indie. But sadly, as Duplass and others rose to fame with the New Cinema, Kasdan was out of the loop, wandering in the wilderness. Now that he's mustered up the gumption to tell that tale, all I can see is an affirmation of his own personal wealth and security. That wealth and security is well earned, but finding the answer to what we the audience did to earn DARLING COMPANION as Kasdan's long-awaited return is a whole other pointless wild goose chase.
- Jim Tudor