Sometimes, a dog just has to get the hell away from people. That's the message, perhaps unintended, I got after viewing Darling Companion—or, as I like to call it, Old White People Problems.
The escapee's name is Freeway, a scrappy mutt found on the side of one by Beth (Diane Keaton), a high-strung, Denver gal with a heavy case of empty-nest syndrome. Of course she takes the dog in, much to the chagrin of her surgeon husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline), who begrudgingly accepts this foreign creature as a new member of the family.
Unfortunately, while taking the dog for a walk near their Rockies vacation cabin, Joseph lets the leashless Freeway get away, prompting an emotional Beth to go on a tireless search-and-rescue mission. Aiding the couple in their search is Joseph's sister (Dianne Wiest), her flighty new boyfriend (Richard Jenkins) and Joseph's sister's son (mumblecore filmmaker turned omnipresent indie-movie star Mark Duplass), who is also a surgeon at Joseph's practice. And let's not forget cabin caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), who becomes the resident search-party navigator when she reveals she's also a psychic gypsy.
Bringing all these people together is The Big Chill writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, who goes to the same people-bonding-over-pets well he went to when he made The Accidental Tourist. Even though Kasdan will forever be a Hollywood hero for writing the first two Star Wars sequels and Raiders of the Lost Ark (and for introducing proto-cougar Kathleen Turner to many a young boy's fantasies in his directorial debut Body Heat), he hasn't made a movie in nine years—and it shows. Shot on cruddy digital video, Companion looks and feels more like an all-star home movie.
It seems apparent that Kasdan is trying to show he can make a decent movie on a cheap budget—about $5 million—and without major-studio backing. However, he comes up short in the decent department. The story (written by Kasdan and his wife, Meg, and based on something that apparently happened to them, and many other people) is dull and forgettable, with the overqualified cast doing what they can with such barely tolerable characters. The one I felt most sorry for was Kline, who refuses to play his character as the self-centered, workaholic asshole the movie makes him out to be and, instead, opts to play him as the only rational and, consequently, most sympathetic person in the bunch.
Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss has a glorified cameo as Keaton and Kline's daughter, whose marriage at the cabin (to the dog's veterinarian, no less) sets this whole thing in motion. Sam Shepard shows up in a couple of scenes as the town sheriff, evidently to give the movie some cornpone sagacity.
The kind of forced, deceptive, quasi-quirky heart-warmer that brings older people (and rabid dog lovers) to the art house, Darling Companion ultimately isn't about finding the dog. It's about these shrill, boring-ass people finding each other, realizing life is nothing without someone to share it with—or some shit like that. I won't spoil it for you on whether or not Freeway eventually reunites with this clan. I will say, either way, the dog deserves better.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A murderer in sheep's clothing."