Sony // 2012 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // September 3rd, 2012
Dog gone...movie should follow.
Lawrence Kasdan...remember him? Name sound familiar? Well, it should. In a previous professional lifetime, he was the Oscar-nominated writer/director of such fine, fine films as The Big Chill, Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, and Body Heat. He also has significant geek screen cred as the script scribe for such classics as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Throughout the '80s and early '90s he was an untouchable talent, viewed as one of the few arthouse A-listers who flourished in a realm where few dared tread. Then he took a considerable career nose dive. First, there was Wyatt Earp, his second revisionist Western (the first being Silverado), then the meaningless Mumford. Finally, in 2003, he gave himself the kiss of death with the dull, dopey adaptation of Stephen King's equally unexceptional Dreamcatcher. That seemed to seal things. Now, after a nine year absence from the cinema, Kasdan is back with Darling Companion, and it would be nice to announce that it is a seminal return to form. As stated, it would be nice. Of course, as the old adage goes, if you can't say something nice...Let's put it this way: you thought Marley and Me was depressing?
In any case, this drab DramCom has Diane Keaton playing Beth, the miserable, menopausal wife of surgeon Dr. Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline, Wild Wild West). They are the typical distant couple. They have an equally unhappy daughter named Grace (Elisabeth Moss, Get Him to the Greek) who is desperate for a husband. As luck would have, mother and adult child find an abandoned dog along the freeway, and immediately adopt him as their own. This leads Grace to meeting a handsome vet (Jay Ali), and in perfect motion picture plotting, the two are married a year later. In the meantime, the Winters take off to their mountain cabin to spend a little quality time with Joseph's sister, Penny (Dianne Wiest, Hannah and Her Sisters), her partner, Russell (Richard Jenkins, Let Me In), and her adult son (Mark Duplass, The Puffy Chair). There is also a housekeeper (Ayelet Zurer, Angels and Demons) who claims to be a gypsy psychic. This all comes in handy when the good doc takes Freeway for a walk, and the hound gets loose and goes gonzo for a passing deer. As the couples look for the MIA mutt, relationships are explored and feelings discussed.
Let's remember one thing before diving into this slack stupidity: Kasdan is indeed capable of crap. He crafted the awkward "ethnic" comedy I Love You to Death, which had capable actors of various national origins copping hate-crime-level Italian accents and/or stoner personas. And who can ever forget the alien worm beat down at the end of Dreamcatchers? It almost singlehandedly stopped the advancement of CGI by a couple dozen years. So it's no surprise that Darling Companion stinks. It's set up to fail from the very start. Kline's character is seen as a slave to reason and job, therefore making him devoid of the touchy feely empathy his desperate, aimless wife needs. Keaton, on the other hand, is guilty of pouring all her misplaced emotions into a collie mix that makes Lassie look like Ryan Gosling in the performance department. Add in a weirdly atypical Wiest (the woman does have two Oscars, remember) and a joyless Jenkins and you end up with a family you want to spend zero time with -- and we haven't even addressed Moss's whiny neediness, Duplass' dull romantic, or Zurer's exotic ennui. Oh, and did we mention that Freeway gets an animated sequence showing his wilderness battles with angry wolves???
Nothing about Darling Companion feels right. It's like someone decided to make a movie about the mafia and then set the entire thing in middle of Amish country. Actually, that might be better than what we have here. As an impetus for more inward reflection, the loss of the dog is a definite red herring. It is set up to suggest an over-sentimentalized finale (which definitely does arrive), but that's all. Elsewhere, Zurer's gypsy is all about getting in touch with your feelings, something her weak-willed WASP-ish employers can't even begin to contemplate. We are supposed to revel in the disclosures here, to see these individuals coming into their own and discovering what makes them tick, internally. Instead, the conversations drag on and on, mirroring the meaningless search for the dog-gone gone dog. We know how things will play out, basically. Some relationships will mend. Some will show that they were never meant to be in the first place, and our pound puppy will play an important role in getting the handkerchiefs out. Roll credits and collect the cash. Unfortunately for this film, the former don't come soon enough and the latter never arrives.
As a Blu-ray release, Darling Companion is okay. Since it was shot digitally, the image sparkles with lots of color and detail. There is great depth and a nice level of contrast. You can still tell this wasn't a celluloid byproduct, but the 2.35:1/1080p high definition widescreen image is polished and professional. Aurally, there is a nice level of immersion in the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. The channels really come alive when the search for Freeway takes to the woods, and we can always hear the dialogue in crystal clarity. In fact, the tech specs are much better than anything the film has to offer contextually. As for bonus features, Kasdan sits down for a rare commentary (with his wife and co-writer Meg and star Kline) and reflects on how many elements in Darling Companion's plot came from his own life. He also discusses his love of actors and working with so many great people. There are also a few minor featurettes discussing aspects of the production. None are really necessary.
Frankly, this is a major fail all around. We come to Kasdan for insights into the human condition, and more times than not, he's delivered same. Here, it's all about a dog and his direct effect on a bunch of dopes. Someone contact the ASPCA, ASAP.
Guilty. About as much fun as a tick bath.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R