It’s a dog movie without much dog in it and a drama that’s really not, says director Lawrence Kasdan of Darling Companion, his first new film in eight years and the opening night fare for SBIFF 2012.
“Nowadays, when Hollywood says a movie is a comedy, they’re usually referring to some big broad knockdown film or a big farce,” explained Kasdan. “Comedy has become so narrowly defined. It used to be that Hollywood comedies were some of the greatest. Movies like Tootsie, Being There, or Dr. Strangelove. Now Hollywood says this is a drama,” he explained, then turned confidential-toned, “but this is really a comedy.”
To be fair, it isn’t really the next Dr. Strangelove either, but Darling Companion — named after one of John Sebastian’s greatest tunes — is a personal film for Kasdan and his wife/cowriter Meg Kasdan. “I know there isn’t a lot of information about it out there. This will be the world premiere; nobody has seen it,” said Kasdan, probably best known for his 1980s films — the searing neo-noir debut Body Heat and the ironically charged Boomer-nostalgia film The Big Chill — though he also wrote The Empire Strikes Back. “I can give you the brief summary we’ve been using. It’s about a woman who loves her dog more than her husband, and then he loses the dog.”
But the search for the dog is an excuse to examine the relationships of people surrounding the husband, played by Kevin Kline (veteran of six Kasdan movies), and wife, played by Diane Keaton in her first Kasdan film. It’s an excuse to be ensemble, admitted Kasdan, who drawled, “Like usual. But what can I say? I like actors.”
Kasdan is pretty sure his wife doesn’t love their dog more than him, but their pooch Mac provided the agonizing moments of the film. “It actually happened to us when we were on vacation in Colorado,” he said. “We had rescued a dog, and then later on this vacation left it with a friend. A mountain biker went by and scared the dog. He disappeared. We freaked out, and we spent weeks out there yelling for it. It wasn’t until after we gave up and left that Mac came wandering out of the woods, seven pounds lighter.”
The film may not have the quiet depths of the irony and lost idealism fans remember from Chill or Canyon, but it wears its sense of camaraderie and diminishing returns on its sleeve. “It’s really about middle age and what makes a good companion,” Kasdan said. It will likely be remembered for kvetchy characters discussing not the tragic mystery of the universe — though that’s there, thanks to a housekeeper played by Ayelet Zurer — but for comic observations on fading powers, many to do with love and bedrooms. Kasdan had no problem collecting a cast of characters that dignifies these anxieties, including Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard.
But it wasn’t easy to put it all together, especially after the poor reception of Kasdan’s most recent films, Mumford and Dreamcatcher. “But every movie is a problem, a big problem,” he explained. “Even the ones Hollywood agrees to make, there’s always problems with casting and budgets. Sometimes it’s easier to raise money for big movies than it is for something small like this. Luckily we got Sony Classics to distribute it. They’re very good.”
Fans will also get a chance to see Kasdan up to his old tricks, for on Friday, the fest presents a screening of The Big Chill, almost 30 years old now. Afterward, Kevin Kline will join Kasdan for a Q&A session, which, given that actor’s reticence to talk to press or public, could turn out to be the newsworthy event of the festival. “All I know is it’ll be really interesting to hear what Kevin says,” said Kasdan, who seems a tad tentative about Kline’s presence.
“It’s a film that I am known for all over the world, and I love that,” said Kasdan. “Besides, my two sons, who are 37 and 32, are both in the film. My younger son is in the film’s first scene, in a bathtub. I bet I could never get him to do a bathtub scene now. It’s amazing it was all so long ago,” said Kasdan, sounding like a character from one of his films.
Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion kicks off SBIFF 2012 on Thursday night, January 26, at the Arlington Theatre.