When you endeavor to see something by a filmmaker previously credited as a major in the field, it's reasonable to expect a little something, even if it's just some kind of confidence with craft. Well Lawrence Kasdan is an evident professional, but the man responsible for both Silverado and The Big Chill appears to be scouring the ground for his own sense of relevance-the hard part is, I think it's there but he's not looking very hard. While most filmmakers find a connection with a main character, Kasdan's surrogate in his newest, Darling Companion, seems to be the disheveled, abandoned mutt that the protagonist Beth (Diane Keaton) finds alongside the highway. Beth and her surgeon husband Joseph officially have an empty nest, and the result of her meltdown is a surrogate family member in the form of this poor dog. She takes it in, cares for it, and a year later, when her youngest gets married, her self-serving husband (Kevin Kline) loses the now beloved canine in the Colorado woods. Joseph, anxious she loves the dog more than him, launches a search for the pet like it's a favor, while the gypsy house keeper (Ayelet Zurer), smitten nephew (Mark Duplass), sister (Dianne Wiest) and sister's fiancé (Richard Jenkins), supportively search with her. All but the exotic housekeeper and the near-outcast fiancé are of the upper crust-they wear their educations in their manner, and when the search takes them into the world to meet strangers, it's terribly clear they don't do much cross-cultural socializing. One search expedition pairs a disgruntled Duplass with a charismatic Jenkins to meet a reportedly crazy redneck that harbors stray dogs-the recluse is wearing a mangled Harvard shirt. I suppose this is as far into class issues as the film is comfortable going, but as "off" as that is, it's not as dismissive or as deflated as other deficiencies the film boasts like accomplishments. Beth's emotional landscape should, by far, be the most important subject: what is she going through now that her kids are out of the house? What dwindling relevance does she struggle with? Can she defeat that fear? Instead, it's treated in such a surface manner you'd think feelings were beyond the film's bloated budget. Kasdan provides no dialogue or even suggestion about the depths of Beth's transition and while Keaton's had some great roles, her performance here is finely tuned to go along with Kasdan's wholly superficial show. Perhaps her underplayed longings will speak louder to those in the throws of their own estate sized empty nests, and if that's true, those viewers will find this a low-stakes, high-pedigree delight. Until then, let's consider it a trifle for Kasdan, who's got more in him than he's letting on here.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Screenwriters: Lawrence Kasdan, Meg Kasdan
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Elizabeth Redleaf
Rating: PG13 for some sexual content including references, and language.
Running time: 103 min.
Release date: April 20 NY/LA