Perhaps the least consequential film ever made, writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s first film since 2003’s howling camp classic Dreamcatcher gathers a bunch of uninteresting, aging boomers in a bubble of unquestioned wealth and privilege, then sets them off wandering around an expansive Rocky Mountain summer resort looking for a lost dog. For an hour and a half.
Kasdan’s genre chops are unimpeachable. He belongs in the screenwriter’s hall of fame just for Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back. You can also throw in Body Heat, Silverado, and I’ll even confess to having a soft spot for The Bodyguard. (Hey, I grew up with two little sisters, we watched that one a lot.)
Alas, Kasdan has also taken on the mantle of “The Voice Of His Generation.” You can probably blame The Big Chill—a movie for which time has done few favors, but was quite a big deal in the ’80s. It seems like every decade or so, Kasdan re-teams with Kevin Kline to do one of these navel-gazing ensemble pieces that’s intended to strike some sort of chord with graying white folks who don’t worry about money but still listen to ’60s music when they want to feel hip. His last effort in this vein was 1991’s Grand Canyon , an often unintentionally hilarious portrait of yuppies attempting to make heads or tails of the L.A. riots. (Paul Haggis probably watched it a hundred times in a row before sitting down to write Crash .) The characters were clueless, but at least questioningly so.
No such questions trouble Darling Companion, a movie that feels almost perversely proud of its lack of incident or theme, and one so appallingly, shoddily slapped together you’ll be forgiven for wondering how any executive decided it was in releasable condition.
Diane Keaton gives her most grating performance as an overly mannered mother suffering from empty-nest syndrome when her daughter (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss) marries a handsome veterinarian. In the unwieldy prologue, Keaton rescues an injured pooch from the side of the freeway, names the dog “Freeway” and then proceeds to talk or think about absolutely nothing else for the rest of her life. You can’t really blame her, as she’s married to Kline, a stuffy, emotionally aloof surgeon so impressed with himself that nobody else need bother.
Dianne Wiest plays the mushy spinster sister, always unlucky in love and mother to Kline’s assistant (tousle-haired Mark Duplass)—who shadows the old man aching for approval. On this particular wedding weekend, Wiest has brought along her new squeeze, Russell (Richard Jenkins). Jenkins plays him as a brash, overly familiar fellow whose main offense in the eyes of all these awful people is that he doesn’t come from money. (The most horrifying thing about this subplot is that you have to watch Richard Jenkins finger-bang Dianne Wiest.)
And then Kline goes and loses that fucking dog in the woods.
Search parties must be organized, and lucky for everybody we’ve got the wise ethnic housekeeper Carmen (played by Munich’s Ayelet Zurer,) who claims to have psychic visions thanks to her gypsy heritage. In the grand tradition of sage, selfless brown people in the history of movies about white assholes, she pairs up all the folks who “really need to talk” and sends them on adventures together, so they can work out their petty, meaningless grudges while shouting “Freeway!” in front of postcard scenery.
A word about that scenery: It looks dreadful. Shot on digital video by Michael McDonough, I would call Darling Companion amateur hour but that would be an insult to amateurs. There’s a constant fog on Keaton’s close-ups, a time-tested cinematography technique to flatter aging actresses, but instead of using filters or lighting tricks, McDonough just shoots her out of focus. You spend half the time confused as to why Keaton is so blurry while the lamp she’s standing in front of remains sharp.
I thrilled to the expository dialogue chunk that was dubbed over a shot of Kline and Sam Shepard (hamming it up as a crotchety sheriff) in a car. Only problem is that anyone with eyes can see their lips aren’t moving, and the man driving that car is most certainly NOT Sam Shepard. (It’s an extra wearing sunglasses, so I guess we’re not supposed to notice.)
Light sources are a constant consternation. One argument in the forest cuts back and forth between Kline and Keaton, but the sun is clearly behind each of them—despite their facing opposite directions. This is the kind of stuff that flunks you out of freshman year in film school. I kept waiting for a throwaway explanation that the movie actually takes place on Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine, where the two suns make mischief with camera settings.
But I guess that’s fitting because Darling Companion might as well take place in another universe altogether, one in which a bunch of pampered, insulated folks with no concerns beyond their own self-interest listen exclusively to adult contemporary covers of old Van Morrison songs, can ground a commercial airliner at their entitled whims and treat a lost dog like something worse than 9/11.
The Big Chill and Grand Canyon at least looked slightly askance at boomers with their heads stuck up their own asses. Darling Companion reveals that theirs—and Kasdan’s—stayed there.
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Starring: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline and Dianne Wiest