Today: February 21, 2024

Darling Companion

Everyone loves a dog movie; from the exciting adventures of Lassie Come Home to the heart-warming escapades of Marley and Me, it is a genre which will never fade away.

Everyone loves a dog movie; from the
exciting adventures of Lassie Come Home to the heart-warming escapades of
Marley and Me, it is a genre which will never fade away.
Add to this a great ensemble of illustrious actors past and
present and you should have the recipe for the perfect family film. However all this still must be rounded
off with a strong, fluent plotline and solid characters and unfortunately this
is where writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s
movie Darling Companion falls short.

Beth (Diane Keaton) and daughter,
Grace (Elisabeth Moss) come across a
cold and injured stray dog on the side of the highway. Taking pity on him they haphazardly
load him in to the car and take him to a vet. As the orphaned canine faces the prospect of the dog pound
due to his age, Beth names him Freeway and decides to adopt him, much to the
protestation of career-obsessed husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline). The
following year, the extended family attend Grace’s wedding (incidentally to the
vet who treated Freeway) in the Rocky Mountains, with wedding guests including
Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest),
her fiancé Russell (Richard Jenkins)
and her son Bryan (Mark Duplass). As the celebrations come to an end,
Joseph takes Freeway for a walk, is distracted by a call from work on his
mobile phone and loses the dog when he runs ahead. Beth is distraught and soon the whole family (with the
exception of Beth and husband who are luckily off on Honeymoon) are out in
force to find their beloved family pet, with the help of the visions of cabin
caretaker, Carmen (Ayelet Zurer) –
an alleged psychic Romany gypsy.

There is no
denying that Darling Companion has a uniquely strong cast of central stars and
supporting actors and it is mostly this which draws you in. Kasdan reunites with legend Kevin Kline
following The Big Chill and French Kiss. Kline’s Joseph is fussy, uppity and closed-minded,
rationalising everything with his medical knowledge, handing out pills to all
and sundry as a way of solving their physical and emotional problems. In a sense, however, he is also the
voice of reason in a film with its head in the clouds, mocking Carmen’s psychic
visions about the location of Freeway as well as the others for hanging on her
every word. Kline does bring a
modicum of humour to the film, but after stand out comedy performances in the
likes of A Fish Called Wanda and In an Out, he leaves you wanting more. Another legend comes in the form of
Diane Keaton as Beth. Following
movies like Manhattan Murder Mystery
and Father of the Bride, she has the
uber-cool, modern mother role down to a tee and her character here is no
exception. Beth is emotional and
since her daughters have flown the nest and her husband remains disinterested
she yearns for something to nurture and finds this in Freeway. With a duo like Kline and Keaton, you
would expect some great moments, but there are only a couple of noteworthy
scenes between them in the entire film.
The same is true of the remaining cast and so stars like Dianne Wiest, Sam Shepard and Mark Duplass are stuck
in characters lacking in personality and pretty much fade in to the background.

It is not
the fault of the cast that you are left wanting more from them as they truly do
the best they can with a weak and misdirected script: a script you would expect more from coming from the man who
brought us one Indiana Jones and two
Star Wars screenplays. The average film lover would snap this up expecting a family
dog film, but the truth is you don’t see much of the dog as he is missing for
nearly the entirety of the film.
The story of the missing dog is a haphazard one that raises many
questions: Why did the dog
disappear? Why is everyone (with
the exception of Joseph) aiming their search for the dog based on ridiculous
psychic visions of one woman? And what on earth is that weird animated dream
sequence in the middle of the film?
By splitting the characters in to obvious couples as they search for the
dog, Kasdan is trying to suggest that it allows them to air their problems, bond
with one another and mend relationships that are ‘out of alignment’ . However the end result is a split
narrative and an unlikely outcome.
Bordering on pretentious and clearly not short of a few bucks, why did
this family not just hire a massive search team and some trackers to find their
pet? The film tries to save itself
with a rusty, weak kind of humour, poking fun at the Southern states as the
characters search for the dog through locations like Pioneer Turn, Seventeen
Heifers, Rattlesnake Trail and even Purgatory but the limited laughs are not
enough to redeem a messy story.

Like New Year’s Eve, Darling Companion is
unfortunately another classic example of a futile effort to make a great movie
by piling a wealth of acting stars into a weak plot. But it’s the mere hint of a possible decent
movie with the presence of stars like Kline, Keaton and Wiest and the lovely,
picturesque setting of the Rocky Mountains that save this film from a dusty
bottom shelf.

Misha Wallace - Social Media Editor

From the age of 4, Misha Wallace became transfixed by movies like Halloween and The Birds from behind the couch, unbeknownst to her family. This has developed in to an obsession with fantasy and horror films (and a considerable number of cheesy 80s and 90s flicks – but she will not be judged). If she was a character in a film she'd be the girl at the end of a horror movie, doused in blood but grinning victorious. Email: or find her any time of the day or night on FilmJuice social media.

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