If you’ve read the bulk of the reviews for Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion, you’ve probably concluded that it’s one of the year’s worst movies. That’s certainly what I was prepared for when I sat down to watch it—but the truth is that the worst I can say about it is that it’s amazingly inconsequential and probably more than a little out of touch with its presumed audience. It will—because of its stars, not to mention the dog—have a certain draw for audiences of a certain age and inclination, and they may well like it more than the reviews indicate they “should.” That said, it’s certainly not the film its pedigree suggests it might be. At best, it’s lightweight stuff. At worst, it has no sense of the lives of real people—only really rich people.
The film uses that annoying contrivance usually found in a certain kind of rom-com—you know, the ones that exist in a fantasy world where everyone has enough money to wallow in self-pity or travel to expensively picturesque places to get over whatever it is that needs getting over. Here we have a tale that exists completely in a world of privilege involving people with mountain cottages that are bigger than most people’s primary residences. These are folks who, when the family dog goes missing, can devote all manner of time and expense to recover him. This simply isn’t relatable to, well, let’s say about 99 percent of us.
And, yes, the dog being lost is most of the story. The dog, named Freeway, was rescued on the side of the road by Beth Winter (Diane Keaton) and her daughter Grace (TV actress Elisabeth Moss), who take the animal to a vet, Sam (TV actor Jay Ali), who in the twinkling of an eye provides a romantic partner for Grace. (It’s that kind of picture.) Of course, Freeway gets taken into the family—despite the protestations of Dr. Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline), Beth’s self-involved, career-aholic husband. All is more or less well, until Joseph loses the dog while talking business on his cell phone during a walk in the woods at their vacation cabin. Much low-wattage drama ensues. This not only involves Beth (who blames Joseph for losing the dog), but also Joseph’s sister, Penny (Dianne Weist), her dreamer boyfriend (Richard Jenkins), and Penny’s son, Bryan (Mark Duplass), who is in practice with Joseph. Oh, yes, there’s also the sultry, seductive and supposedly psychic housekeeper, Carmen (Ayelet Zurer, Angels & Demons).
Yes, a group of people interacting like this recalls director Kasdan’s glory days with The Big Chill (1983), but there’s a world of difference between that and this only vaguely likable, shambling, unfocused movie. It may be unfair, but the presence of mumblecore maestro Mark Duplass (more likable here than usual) makes the whole thing feel like a case of Kasdan making a desperate bid for trendiness with his attempt at something like mumblecore (though far more polished). The only thing that makes it work, when all is said and done, is the pairing of Keaton and Kline. Kline is sufficiently acid to keep the goo at bay, and Keaton finds more depth in her role than it deserves. Keaton can’t quite keep Beth from being a little annoying, but she does keep that annoyance in check.
No, this isn’t even a very good movie, but neither is it the ghastly mess it’s been painted as. The biggest problem really is that its cast and director suggest something better, and it just doesn’t happen. Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual content including references.