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Darling Companion – Film Review

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Darling Companion - Diane Keaton and Elisabeth Moss
Beth (Diane Keaton) and daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) rescue an injured stray dog that will change their family's life © 2011 Dolly Grip Productions

Incredibly, this inane, endless and unexpectedly unmoving lost-dog story was directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, whose previous ensemble efforts include the excellent The Big Chill and the pretty good Grand Canyon. Although Darling Companion boasts a respectable cast, its storyline feels like an overstretched contrivance, at least one subplot should have been excised and the inconsistently lit film doesn’t even look good.

Diane Keaton overdoes what has become her standard late-middle-age overgrown-child act as Beth, an emotionally volatile new grandmother prone to sudden tears and impulsive outbursts. Her husband is the more serious-minded Joseph, played with just the right amount of twinkling charm by Kevin Kline.

After seeing off her married-with-child daughter at the airport, Beth and her other grown daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men) spot a stray on their drive home. Beth crazily demands that Grace turn around on the freeway to rescue the dog, but settles for a safer way to pull over and retrieve the battered mutt.

Darling Companion - Elisabeth Moss and Kevin Kline
Grace (Elisabeth Moss) is walked down the aisle by her father Joseph (Kevin Kline) © 2011 Dolly Grip Productions

Disapproving Joseph later insists that the collie-mix — dubbed Freeway by Beth — has to go. Sure. A year later, Freeway has become such a family fixture that he is part of Grace’s wedding ceremony. The blessed event takes place at what a caption awkwardly informs us is “Beth and Joseph’s Vacation Home in the Rockies.”

That’s where Freeway runs off chasing a deer while Joseph is preoccupied with medical matters on his cell phone, resulting in lots of “you know more about your patients than your family” recriminations later. The rest of the movie is taken up by the search for Freeway, accompanied by various soul-baring, bonding and flirty conversations among the participants.

In addition to Beth and Joseph, the searchers include Joseph’s blinded-by-love sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her financially questionable fiancé Russell (Richard Jenkins), who wants to open Omaha’s first English pub. Penny’s adult son Bryan (Mark Duplass), a colorless surgeon who works with Joseph, has the hots for the darkly seductive Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), who is the vacation home’s caretaker. Nice work if you can get it.

Raven-haired Carmen, who announces that her mother is a Romany Gypsy and her father a yogi, is the movie’s weakest link. When Joseph scoffs at her claim that she can find things with the help of her deceased “spirit mate” dog, Beth chides him for being too one dimensional. “Excuse me for living in this dimension,” he rather reasonably retorts.

But before long everyone is running around trying to locate the places and people Carmen sees in her visions, encountering colorful characters including a kidney-stone suffering sheriff (a slumming Sam Shepard) and an unhelpfully hostile hermit (Charles Halford). It’s all supposed to be endearingly silly, but just seems strained and stupid.

Even a tried-and-true comedy bit — Beth hesitantly attempting to put Joseph’s dislocated shoulder back in place after a fall — seems jinxed here. Halfway through the scene, the handheld camera that’s photographing the action begins moving around so much it’s as if the cameraman suddenly discovered a squirrel in his pants.

A failed farce that takes dog years to end, Darling Companion isn’t quite as big a disappointment as Kasdan’s last film, 2003’s dreadful Dreamcatcher. But it’s definitely a dud.

[Rating: 1.5 stars]

Darling Companion is released in US and Canada on Friday April 20, 2012.