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Dustin Putman

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Darling Companion  (2012)
1 Stars
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan.
Cast: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Elisabeth Moss, Lindsay Sloane, Jay Ali.
2012 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for some sexual content including references, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 18, 2012.
Lawrence Kasdan hasn't made a movie in nine years (his last was 2003's atmospheric if uneven Stephen King adaptation "Dreamcatcher"), and he hasn't made a great one since 1991's "Grand Canyon." His latest—a collaboration with his co-writer wife Meg—is in no danger of punching up a resumé that also includes 1983's rightfully iconic homecoming slice-of-life "The Big Chill." Sign #1 that "Darling Companion" is troubled: it transforms a usually faultless veteran cast into a bunch of stilted, sleepy-eyed whiners who can barely sell any of the lines coming out of their mouths. Diane Keaton (2010's "Morning Glory") and Kevin Kline (2011's "No Strings Attached") are one thing, but when even unrivaled character actor Richard Jenkins (2010's "Dear John") can't make a script workable, it's a tell-tale sign that something is terribly off. Like an over-the-hill fogey sorely mistaken about still being hip, this treacly comedic drama is startlingly out of touch. The ages of the characters aren't the problem; it's always refreshing to see stories about people outside the 18-35 demographic. What's grievous, then, is the cornball treatment of a premise that is not only painfully quaint, but also repetitive.

With youngest child Grace (Elisabeth Moss) all grown up and preparing to leave the nest, Beth Winter (Diane Keaton) is in denial about the trouble she's having coming to terms with this new chapter in her life. When she notices an injured grown dog by the side of the highway and learns that it will probably be put down if she leaves it, Beth opens her arms to this adorable mixed collie that she names—wait for it—Freeway. One year later, the family has gathered at their vacation home in the Rockies for the nuptials of Grace and veterinarian Sam (Jay Ali). With spinal surgeon husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) seemingly more dedicated to his work than his wife, the lonely Beth has bonded with Freeway as if he were one of her children. The ailments in her marriage rise suddenly to the forefront when Joseph takes the dog for a walk and loses him. What follows is three days of walking around the mountains, calling out "Freeway!" and dealing with relationship issues. In addition to Beth and Joseph, along for the hunt are Joseph's divorced sister Penny (Dianne Wiest), her new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins), Penny's adult son Bryan (Mark Duplass), and Beth's offbeat, allegedly psychic housekeeper Carmen (Ayelet Zurer).

Less than fifteen minutes into "Darling Companion," a montage of Beth falling in love with Freeway to the twangs of a country song called, you guessed it, "Darling Companion," is so blatantly on-the-nose it almost doesn't seem real even as it's happening. In one respect, no one can accuse the film of not wearing its heart shamelessly on its sleeve. At the same time, these broad strokes leave no room for subtlety or eloquence. The film is egregiously contrived from one end to the next, and also at a loss for how to fill up its past-the-point-of-no-return 103-minute running time. There are minor subplots, such as Russell's and Penny's cockamamie wish to open an English pub in Omaha—they want Beth and Joseph to invest in it—and the romance that slowly blossoms between Bryan and Carmen. There's an inappropriately placed animated sequence posing as a dream. There are even climactic slapstick hijinks on a turbulent private plane as they search the land aerially. In between all that is a whole lot of walking around and sparring.

Diane Keaton attempts to anchor "Darling Companion," but too often falls back on screechiness and over-acting as she turns to weeping. Dog lovers won't have much use for the film because Freeway is MIA for the bulk of the narrative. When the meandering up and down and around the lush Rockies scenery subsides and director Lawrence Kasdan locates his ending, it's both a foregone conclusion and intensely anticlimactic, leading one to wonder if the movie ever really had anything else on its mind other than finding a dog. Freeway is worth our cares almost by default—he's a harmless and sweet animal, after all—but very little else about the mildewed "Darling Companion" earns as much as a second glance.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman