Lawrence Kasdan's "Darling Companion," starring Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline and a dog named Freeway, has Mark Metcalf longing for a little authenticity.
In 1983, Lawrence Kasdan directed The Big Chill. It opened the careers of several young actors and defined whatever it was that media pundits meant by the term “Yuppie.” Young. Urban. Professional. Y.U.P. is to Yuppie as cute is to cutie.
Two years later, he directed one of the cleanest and most verbally clever westerns ever made, Silverado. And when I use the word “clever,” it’s not necessarily mean it as a compliment. I mean it as in, “That guy in the corner with all people hanging on his every word is too clever for his own good.” So, yes, I’m envious. I admit it. But I also find it tedious.
Then in 1991, he directed an impossibly clean—almost to the point of being antiseptic—story about race relations amongst the no longer quite so young, urban, professional, Grand Canyon. His films look very pretty. The lighting caresses every surface with equal affection. The angles he chooses are unobtrusive, except for the fact that they are so obviously unimaginative. The writing is (again) clever and well observed; the relationships are movie-relationships, barely brushing up against the world that most of us inhabit. The acting is always charming and efficient. The films have the nutritional value of Cracker Jacks.
He has done it again with Darling Companion. The characters have aged (as have we all), but they still own the ‘U’ and the ‘P’ in Yuppie. In the opening scene, Diane Keaton, having just tearfully put her oldest daughter and first grandchild on a plane back to Boston, drives home with her other, self-admitted-man-avoiding-PHD-candidate daughter, and spots a dog on the freeway. This is the movie-miracle dog that will drive the whole story. The scene is staged much the way it might have been for an episode of CHiPs, but any irony or camp is unintentional.
They bring the dog home, take it to a vet, the previously self-admitted-man-avoiding-PHD-candidate daughter instantly goes all weak in the knees at the sight of the smart, funny, compassionate Indian veterinarian. Flash forward to their wedding in the Rocky Mountains at Mom and Dad’s vacation home. Of course the dog–named Freeway for reasons that are all too obvious–is part of the ceremony.
Keaton’s husband, played by Kevin Kline, is a spine surgeon, whom we are repeatedly told is so caught up with his work that he has little time for the family. It is also important to know that he did not want to keep the dog, even arguing long and hard against it. But in the end (and this is straight out of Modern Family), they keep the dog which leads to numerous dog-walking montages of Kline and Freeway.
The rest of the film consists of various couples walking through the woods and mountains calling “Freeway” and dissecting their relationships, and/or growing new ones.
Kasdan has taken the same Baby Boomers from The Big Chill through to being empty nesters in Darling Companion, and they haven’t lost a step, broken an honest sweat, or gotten their Eddie Bauer vests dirty in thirty years. Keaton walks through a rain storm and her hair is still perfect. The “Gypsy” house keeper that keeps them in thrall with her back to the earth spiritualism and crystal ball gazing has impossibly perfect eye lashes and her eye liner is never smudged.
Personally, I long for a little authenticity. Darling Companion will be appreciated mostly by people who miss Murder She Wrote.