New on DVD: Darling Companion (2012)

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Darling Companion isn’t earth-shaking. Nor is it terribly original.

But darned if Lawrence Kasdan’s latest didn’t leave me feeling very, very good.

In many aspects it forms a neat pair of bookends with Kasden’s 1991 film Grand Canyon, which explored the racial, cultural and economic divides among a diverse group of Los Angelinos.

This time around the subject is the various stages of love as experienced by a group of Denverites who are drawn together by a dog.

The film begins in winter with wife and mother Beth (Diane Keaton) rescuing a stray dog she spots by the side of the Interstate. She names the pooch Freeway, and quickly falls for the animal, which radiates a major love vibe.

Beth’s cell phone-addicted surgeon husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) isn’t keen on having a pet. But Freeway seems to have a wondrous effect on people. Among other things, the dog is instrumental in bringing together the couple’s romantically-challenged daughter Grace (Elizabeth Moss) and a young veterinarian.

Cut to several months later. Grace and the vet are being married at the family’s summer home in the Rockies.

On hand is Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her new beau, Russell (the ever-excellent Richard Jenkins). Also attending is Penny’s son Bryan (Mark Duplass), and the caretaker of the summer home, Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), an attractive European gypsy.

The screenplay by Kasden and his wife, Meg Kasden, establishes early on the fault lines in these relationships. Joseph and Beth’s marriage has hit the over-60 doldrums, and while he’s content with his Babbitt-ish life, she’s churning for recognition and excitement.

Joseph can barely hide his contempt for his sister’s new lover, whom he regards as a con artist only trying to get the family to invest in his latest get-rich-quick scheme (an “authentic” Irish pub in Omaha).

And Brian has come to the wedding stag because his live-in girlfriend can’t be bothered. Hmm...maybe that relationship’s days are numbered.

Okay, so this isn’t the most original setup. In fact, it fairly creaks. We can see a mile off how these relationship roadbumps will be negotiated. Joseph and Beth will rediscover one another. Penny will defy her brother and find a soulmate in the charming/funny Richard. Bryan will develop a major love jones for the exotic Carmen.

But the Kasdans throw in a very interesting twist when Freeway becomes lost in the woods and the humans spend several days searching for him, usually pairing up to hike trails and traverse mountains.

Once again, the dog has a way of bringing people together ... even though we don’t see him for the bulk of the movie.

Knowing where Darling Companion is going (the title might refer to the dog ... or perhaps it’s about the people in our lives) does not detract from its many pleasures. Much of this has to do with the acting, which is consistently touching and amusing. The Kasdans have a good eye for human foible and a sharp ear for the stupid things we say.

They toss in an iffy woo-woo subplot involving Carmen’s assertion that she’s psychic. Throughout the film she has “visions” about Freeway which send the others off on various goose chases. Is she really gifted or just deluded? No telling ... but as long as she gives off a major exotic/erotic vibe she can be anything she wants.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.

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