Diane Keaton and Kasey in Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion
Photo by Wilson Webb, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
“Love is love. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog.” So says Diane Keaton during an argument with her husband Kevin Kline in Lawrence Kasdan’s unassuming, stripped down and altogether lovely new film Darling Companion. The dog in question is indeed the “darling companion” of the film’s title, but Freeway (so named because that’s where Keaton’s character rescues him in the film’s opening scene) turns out to be just one example of several that Kasdan is concerned with. This is a movie about love, the difficulties in finding its as well as simply hanging on to what you’ve found.
As long-time spouses Beth and Joseph, Keaton and Kline were once each other’s darling companions, but time and neglect and 40 years of water under the bridge have left their marriage decayed. Materially comfortable enough that they can take a vacation home in the Rockies for granted, they’re so absorbed in their own daily lives and concerns that their relationship has turned fallow and the introduction of Freeway might just be the catalyst to drive them apart once and for all. When Joseph loses the dog in the mountains, conflict becomes inevitable, but with a little luck perhaps everything can be worked out for the better.
Revolving around this central story are a series of characters at various stages in their own search for darling companionship. Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) plays Grace, the daughter of Joseph and Beth who falls in love with and marries Freeway’s veterinarian. Dianne Wiest plays Beth’s sister Penny, a widow just embarking on a new relationship with Richard Jenkins’ Russell, who it is feared only wants her for her money. Finally, director/actor Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) plays Wiest’s son Bryan who himself may have found love in the most unlikely of places, a gypsy named Carmen played by Ayelet Zurer (Munich).
So, just to get the obvious out of the way: yes, Darling Companion is on the most basic level “about a bunch of rich white people looking for a dog” and apparently in these difficult economic times that’s a real problem for some people. While I admit I’d rather be rich and unhappy than poor and unhappy, I don’t really see what difference economic status or race have to do with the basic human need for love and the difficulty in losing it, but there it is. If that’s going to be a sticking point for you then you can stop reading this review right now and go do something else.
Particularly because of Kevin Kline’s involvement (his 6th outting with Kasdan), it’s tempting to draw thematic threads to some of Kasdan’s other films, particularly The Big Chill and Grand Canyon. It’s true all three films deal with baby boomers at various stages of life, but Darling Companion doesn’t feel like it’s trying to speak for a whole generation the way Chill did and it isn’t weighed down by the earnest racial concerns of Canyon. I have to admit I don’t like those other films all that much, but Darling Companion is simple, funny, direct and honest. Working outside of the studio system on a modest budget seems to have liberated Kasdan and energized him to tell the kind of personal stories he wants to tell. These feel refreshingly like real people with real problems, even if they happen to be especially well off people.
The drama in the story is rooted in the kinds of real drama that we all have to deal with day in and day out. It’s not trumped up, earth shattering screenplay drama. The relative highs and lows are modest and while that might make the film seem slight, it’s actually a big part of its charm. With its low key but deeply resonant drama, sharp dialogue and raft of terrific, funny performances, Darling Companion is a likable, moving pleasure.
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