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With: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Elisabeth Moss, Sam Shepard, Charles Halford, Lindsay Sloane, Jay Ali, Robert Bear, Kasey
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, Meg Kasdan
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content including references, and language
Running Time: 103
Date: 01/26/2012

Darling Companion (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dog Daze

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Lawrence Kasdan's return to the big screen after a nine-year absence -- since Dreamcatcher (2003) -- is getting terrible reviews. Darling Companion, which screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, isn't really that terrible. It's sweet and awkward, but I find it hard to muster up any hatred for it.

Perhaps the biggest trouble is the first ten minutes, which are supremely awkward. It's baffling that a screenwriter such as Kasdan, with more than a dozen major produced screenplays over the past 30 years, could have begun his movie like this. The characters clumsily stumble over their expository dialogue. For example, Joseph (Kevin Kline) introduces himself as a surgeon, even though he is standing in his office with two other people who know he's a surgeon.

Then comes a painful airport sequence in which Beth (Diane Keaton) says goodbye to her grandson, and a whole bunch of characters are introduced in that same fashion. It's all truly wince-inducing. I would imagine that a great many viewers and reviewers would be inspired to leave after this first ten minutes. And I will be the first to agree that it's hard to recover from a bad opening.

But Darling Companion does recover. After rescuing a dog on the side of the freeway -- and naming him Freeway -- her daughter marries the veterinarian and they all head up to the mountains for a wedding. When the wedding is over and the guests leave, the movie starts to relax.

Joseph and Beth are there, and they're not getting along as well as they used to. Joseph's sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) is also there, and she's getting along great with her new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins), even though no one seems to like him -- Penny's son Bryan (Mark Duplass) least of all. Bryan is also a doctor who works with Joseph. He has a terrible girlfriend who did not come to the wedding, allowing him to flirt with the lovely caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer). At some point, Freeway runs away and gets lost.

The idea is that, while looking for the dog, all these characters learn a little about themselves and each other, and re-charge their lives. There's a hint that Carmen has some kind of extra-sensory powers, though these are not proven. But the awesome skill of these actors adds untold layers of warmth and depth to their parts, forming real, honest, relationships. The movie has a relaxed pace, which is appropriate as characters learn that their everyday worries aren't as important as human connections. It's also one of those rare movies about people over 30.

It's too bad that the beautiful dog (named Kasey in real life) isn't more present in this dog movie, but you can't have everything. At least Sam Shepherd is here as a grumpy local sheriff.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment sent me only a DVD and not a Blu-ray, but the extras appear to be the same on both. There's a warm commentary track with Lawrence Kasdan (his very first), Meg Kasdan and Kevin Kline. Four featurettes include "Darling Companion: Behind the Scenes" (5 minutes), "Behind the Scenes: Lawrence Kasdan" (5 minutes), "Finding Freeway: Dog People" (3 minutes), and "On the Red Carpet: New York Premiere" (2-1/2 minutes). There are also trailers for this and other Sony releases.

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