Now Freeway is missing, lost in the woods that surround the family cabin on the day that Gracie married. Family members old and new unite in the search to find the irreplaceable pet and embark on an emotional journey that will help them each to embrace the next chapter in their lives.
Darling Companion is a film that tries to explore the complexities of aging and the change time brings upon long-term relationships. Diane Keaton’s Beth is a woman searching for a role now that her maternal identity is diminishing. Her relationship with buttoned-up surgeon husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) lacks the ease she had with her daughters and she is struggling to adjust to life without them. Although a reluctant dog owner at first, Joseph begrudgingly accepts Freeway into the household and within a year the scruffy old dog has become the shaggy glue that bind them. However, a fissure appears when Freeway is lost. Joseph, who allowed the family pet to flee while distracted by a work call, dismisses Beth’s heartbreak as overreaction and the couple’s fragile bond is quickly in danger of shattering altogether.
Darling Companion is a film about a family searching for a missing dog. If you are looking for nuance or metaphor then I am afraid I must swiftly disabuse you of your optimism. If you, like me, have fallen for The Big Chill and Grand Canyon credentials of writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, seen Kevin Kline’s involvement and jumped to conclusions, all I can say is this: step away from the dog film.
The excellent cast – Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest, Sam Shepard, Keaton and Kline – are sirens cast to raise your expectations and lure you in. You must close your ears to their seductive song. If you are still tempted, if you love your old scruffy dog and quite fancy a watch, you should know one more thing: the cabin’s caretaker is a sexy psychic gypsy who helps them with the dog hunt by looking for signs in frying bacon. Yup.
Occasionally, very, very occasionally, Richard Jenkins and Kevin Kline’s characters attempt to engage their co-searchers in deeper discussion – to voice their fears about life after sixty. But the interjection of a comedy ram or angry mountain man swiftly nips that madness in the bud and we’re back to the heartwarming business of dog hunting once more. Richard Jenkins’ Russell is the jobless entrepreneur wooing Aunt Penny (Dianne Wiest) out of her safe life and savings and into the ‘Old English Pub’ business with him. Penny’s son Bryan is determined that his mother’s head not be turned by Russell’s vivacity and snake-charmer-charisma but it is not long before he too succumbs. Scenes between the two and particularly between Wiest and Jenkins are the closest Darling Companion comes to exposing real heart. For, despite its mechanical attempts to move, this is a curiously emotionless film.
As I found my mind wandering early on in the search I began to fixate on two pressing concerns:
Why did no one ever call the dog’s name or use the whistles dangling uselessly from their necks?
Why does Diane Keaton wear a facsimile of her own clothing in every single film she’s in?
I decided that the clothing thing was either an affectation she has adopted to declare that her personal style takes precedence over the individuality of the characters she plays. Or a wordless acknowledgement that she will be reprising her trademark neurotic, turtlenecked, post-menopausal lady role once more. Regarding the dog I decided that there was only really 45 minutes of actual movie here – the makings of an excellent episode of imaginary drama Sixty-Something – so it was padded by the rookie mistake of not calling the dog you are seeking. If anyone else can sit through this film I would be delighted to hear your theories.
Darling Companion is a wishy-washy and forgettable waste of the time and talent of its cast. It is The Littlest Hobo without the Frisbee or the kid in the wheelchair and for that reason, and a thousand more, you should look elsewhere for your dog-centric entertainment. If psychic Romany ladies and animated doggie dream sequences are your thing, however, then this is the film for you.
Darling Companion is available on DVD from 11th February 2013