It's a dog's life with a big chill
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Apr. 27, 2012
Dogs and the women who love them form the warm and gooey center of "Darling Companion," Lawrence Kasdan's fitfully amusing comedy-drama starring Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline.
Keaton plays Beth, a middle-age mother of two facing an empty nest and little sympathy from her husband, Joseph (Kline), a workaholic back surgeon.
Beth finds newfound purpose - and, not incidentally, cuddly physical comfort - in Freeway, a sad-eyed dog she rescues and takes home on an impulse. "Darling Companion," which Kasdan co-wrote with his wife, Meg, doesn't dwell on Beth's relationship with Freeway or the sub-themes of unconditional love and commitment, a la "Marley and Me."
Instead, when Freeway goes missing at a family wedding, the film chronicles the search for the dog and how it brings a group of friends, relatives and erstwhile strangers into newfound intimacy.
That canine goose chase results in some contrivances that creak under the strain, especially when Beth's and Joseph's caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) announces she has psychic powers and sends them on a telepathically inspired scavenger hunt. And the incidentals of "Darling Companion" - the Rocky Mountain vacation homes, larky investments and sundry material accoutrements of wealth - suggest that it has been beamed from Planet of Unexamined Privilege rather than transpiring in the here and now.
Luckily, "Darling Companion" benefits from some winning performances - not just from Keaton and Kline, who settle in to an easy, unforced rapport, but also from Dianne Wiest and Richard Jenkins (as Joseph's sister and her goofy new boyfriend) and a splendid cameo from Sam Shepard as a crusty town sheriff. (His conversation with Kline comparing PSA counts and bad cholesterol just might be worth the price of admission.)
Kasdan is still best known for his 1983 film "The Big Chill," the cinematic avatar of self-referential baby boomers and still the blueprint for touchstone ensemble comedies that aspire to speak for any era. The best moments of "Darling Companion" play like "The Big Chill" redux, with the Motown-loving, kitchen-dancing college pals of yore now facing menopause, colonoscopies and the fading of the light. At least "Darling Companion" is willing to go along on that inevitable slide, even if it often seems on a path as aimless as old Freeway's.
Contains some sexual references and profanity.