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Film review: Actors Make Light ‘Darling Companion’ Charming

Darling Companion 3I have a lot of respect for Lawrence Kasdan – anyone who could pen scripts for two Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark before going on to write and direct Body Heat, The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist deserves it.

So if years after his biggest successes he decides to gather his acting touchstone Kevin Kline and some other top thespians for a shaggy-dog story, I’m fine with that. Not that Mr. Kasdan needs my blessing, of course, but I’ve already heard and read plenty of grousing about this film’s rather lightweight feel.

Darling Companion 2So there’s no great import to this film – there’s still some heart, humor and hurt in the script Kasdan and his wife Meg wrote. And with a cast that includes enough awards to fill multiple mantelpieces, that’s fine too.

It’s also nice to have a cute dog around named Freeway (whose real name is Kasey) to mix things up a little bit for the human characters. It all starts when Beth (Diane Keaton) and her daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) are driving down the, well, freeway near their home in the Denver suburbs and mom spots the seriously injured but still adorable canine. Her smug surgeon husband Joseph (Kline) wants Freeway to hit the highway ASAP, but of course that doesn’t happen since this is a feature-length film and not a short.

Darling Companion 10A year passes, Grace marries the vet (Jay Ali) that treated Freeway, and even set-in-his-ways Joseph has accepted the big mutt as one of the family. That of course means something has to go wrong and it does when Freeway chases a deer and then doesn’t return to his adopted family’s lovely Rocky Mountains-surrounded home. The ensuing search reveals far more about the tensions in Beth and Joseph’s marriage than the reason why a seemingly content dog would bolt his comfortable existence.

In addition to the esteemed Oscar-winning duo of Keaton and Kline the flick has two-time Academy Award recipient Dianne Wiest as Joseph’s ready-for-a-change sister Penny and Richard Jenkins, whose work on TV’s Six Feet Under was as good as anything his colleagues have done in films, as the new man in her life. Oh, yeah, there’s some guy named Sam Shepard as the local sheriff – you know, the guy that moonlights as one of America’s great playwrights?

Darling Companion 8All of the aforementioned are wonderful – the ease with which they take on their roles and each other is certainly expected given their track records, but it’s taken years of hard work to make good look so easy. There are others in the cast that do quite well: Mark Duplass as Penny’s anxious son Bryan handles his “I think I’m more mature than my mom” role quite well. And then there’s Ayelet Zurer as the sultry caretaker clairvoyant Carmen (that’s not a description one comes across everyday) who tells Penny she’s never married because “no man can keep up with me sexually.” It’s easy to believe her given not only her beauty but the smart, intense and focused way she presents her carnal-under-the-crust character.

Kasdan and his cinematographer Michael McDonough get kudos for making the most of the gorgeous scenery around them (though interestingly it’s not actually Colorado but Utah that served as the principal shooting location) and for framing the story with shots like a great overhead of Freeway leading Beth and Joseph on a wintry walk. Such shots, and the pleasant performances of the ensemble, give this admittedly lightly-built story a great deal of charm, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

Darling Companion (www.darlingcompanionfilm.com) opens today (Friday, June 1) in Nashville exclusively at Regal Hollywood Stadium 27, 719 Thompson Lane (www.regmovies.com). Rated PG-13 for some sexual content including references, and language. 103 min. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan; written by Lawrence and Meg Kasdan. Starring Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Lindsay Sloane and Sam Shepard.

*All photos by Wilson Webb courtesy Sony Pictures Classics.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).