Darling Companion Review
For the first hour of this movie about a lost dog who, even while wandering aimlessly in the mountains, serves as a relationship repair mechanic for all the less appealing human beings in his life, you’ll be forgiven if you find yourself wishing that the camera would just follow the guy with four paws instead of the somewhat irritating ensemble of bourgeois bipeds. As it is, his Incredible Journey remains a mystery to everyone except him. And he doesn’t talk.
Which means we’re stuck with the humans. They’re creations of Lawrence Kasdan, a filmmaker who unbalances his early, legendary, adventure-based resume (he wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark) with an ongoing, ever-growing number of projects that feature casts of gentle, educated, well-off, white, liberal characters (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon), people for whom he feels obvious kinship. They include surgeon Kevin Kline and screen wife Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest and new beau Richard Jenkins, and Mark Duplass and his fledgling crush on the somewhat psychic Ayelet Zurer. Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss pops up every once in a while, too. And they all find themselves affected romantically by the arrival and, later, the sudden disappearance of Keaton’s rescue mutt Freeway, so named because that’s where he was found. You can probably assume that the missing dog as relationship whisperer storyine is the fictional tack-on to the rest, which is based on a real-life incident where Kasdan’s own dog was lost for three weeks while on vacation.
A frantic search party is organized. Keaton micromanages everyone. Local sheriff Sam Shepard joins in the hunt. And while the extended dog chase is taking place — flights are postponed, work is ignored, vacation-home-neighbor’s places are broken into and various locals harassed in one presumptuous and/or insensitive way after another — ideas about love and loss and romance shift and move. You just won’t much care.
Until, that is, Keaton and Kline are allowed to be alone on screen, talking and rekindling the affection their marriage has long since forgotten was supposed to be part of the deal. At that moment, late in the movie, a point at which you might have already given up if it weren’t already your job to sit through to the end, their chemistry finally turns meaningful and truths about growing older with the same person begin to emerge. You have to wait too long for this, but if you’re still paying any attention and simply hoping that the dog shows back up to do a few Uggie-style tricks, it’ll take you by surprise and maybe turn your attitude around.
Or you’ll bail and go dig up Lassie Come Home on TCM. There’s more actual dog in that one.
By Dave White