If Lawrence Kasdan made art films, this would be his postmodern moment. It’s a dog film without much dog in it, the story of a yuppieish L.A. family who lose their pet near their Colorado cabin and in the talky distraught process of seeking the missing pooch find themselves instead. The film was pitched to studios thusly: “The story of a woman who loves her dog more than her husband. Then the husband loses the dog.”
Ingmar Bergman might’ve green-lighted it.
But Kasdan is not an art-house director, and this is barely a good dog film. Since his searing debut 40 years ago with neo-noir Body Heat, Kasdan has occupied himself exclusively with ensemble films, made with the slimmest pretext or excuses for a group of actors he likes to quip, furnish rejoinders, and bare their tiny truths. The difference between Kasdan and someone like Robert Altman, who also tended toward big group-talk endeavors, is that Altman’s ensembles often revel in their scarier sides, while Kasdan tends toward the self-congratulatory tug. His best film was The Big Chill, which at least had death and disillusionment on its speechifying mind. This film, with its chewy core of New Age consolation, is among his worst.
Darling Companion hosts spectacular talent, including Diane Keaton, Richard Jenkins, Kevin Klein, Sam Shepard, and Dianne Wiest. Fans (and who doesn’t love at least one member of this cast?) might enjoy the film, and there is a touching quality to the open-ended sense of loss, but these great actors are given little to chew on. Kasdan barely considers why grown-up professional people might care enough about a dog to ditch their own jobs (Klein plays a physician) to muck around in the woods crying out plaintively. It’s a powerful mystery, but the film veers into duller questions about things like the lines we draw between career and so-called life. Given the astronomical talent in this film, the real mystery here is how Kasdan made these stars seem so doggedly dull.