Darling Companion


Woman's best friend isn't necessarily a diamond.

Woman’s best friend isn’t necessarily a diamond.

(2012) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Sam Shepard, Lindsay Sloane, Jay Ali, Robert Bear, Casey, Paul Kiernan, Jericho Watson, Yolanda Wood, D.L. Walker, Dina Goldman, Ruben Barboza, Mark Robinette, Craig Miner, Anne Cullimore Decker, Aline Andrade. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Dog lovers are, if you’ll forgive me, a unique breed. Being one myself, I know whereof I speak. Da Queen will tell you that I’m borderline obsessive and if you pressed, she’d probably even admit that I left the rational border behind years ago. That’s okay. Guilty as charged. From time to time in movies I have to witness bad things happening to dogs. Da Queen will also tell you that there’s no surer way to turn this rational, logical critic into a slobbering mess than seeing harm come to a dog. It’s not just my dogs I love but all dogs.

I tell you this because I was a bit concerned when I heard what the premise for this movie was. When Beth (Keaton) and her daughter Grace (Moss) find an abandoned dog at the side of a Colorado highway, Beth immediately takes to her four-legged friend. Naming the dog Freeway, she adopts the critter when nobody steps in to claim it.

Her husband Joseph (Kline), a back surgeon who invests much more into his career than he does into his marriage although he is to his own mind completely devoted to his family, is a bit annoyed by the presence of the dog but when his wife insists, he capitulates grudgingly. What he doesn’t get is that he spends a lot of time away from the home while she raised her daughters. With Grace getting married at their Rocky Mountain vacation home in the fall, her nest will be officially empty. She needs something to fill it and a dog is an excellent choice.

Beth grows very fond of Freeway and the two are virtually inseparable but things get kind of crazy as the wedding approaches and of course Joseph is of little help. As Beth is helping Grace with the final details at the vacation house, Joseph – about as useful as a cell phone on top of Mt. Everest – is given the task of walking the dog. He does so, forgetting to put Freeway on a leash and so busy talking into his cell phone he barely notices when Freeway runs off after a deer.

When Joseph returns home sans dog, Beth is understandably distraught and unleashes her wrath on Joseph who doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about. “It’s not like it’s a person,” he complains, “it’s just a dog” to which Beth retorts “Love is love. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a person or a dog.” She has a point but then again I am somewhat unreliable  when it comes to objectivity in this regard.

Of course, Joseph is in the literal dog house but he searches for the dog without success. Beth, frantic, enlists Joseph’s sister Penny (Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Jenkins) as well as Penny’s son Bryan (Duplass). Neither Joseph nor Bryan trust Russell whom they think has ulterior motives when it comes to Penny but Penny appears happy enough.

For Bryan’s part, he takes a shine to Carmen (Zurer), the housemaid who claims to have psychic powers who is certain that Freeway is still alive. This only furthers Beth’s determination and as the adults travel the beautiful countryside of the Rockies in the fall, they are forced to deal with each other one on one – for the first time in a very long time in some cases.

Some may recall Kasdan as the director of Silverado and The Big Chill as well as the writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He co-wrote this with his wife Meg so we do get both sides of the equation in most of the relationships without being overly committed to one point of view or the other. Kasdan has the wisdom to know that there are always more than one in any relationship and the case is generally that no one person is always right or always wrong.

However, you can never be wrong when you cast Kevin Kline and nobody knows that better than Kasdan who gave the actor his big break in The Big Chill. Kline is an everyman who can play just about any role and make it believable. He’s also so damn likable that even when he’s playing a character who is a bit of a dick we still end up relating to him which is quite the gift. I think that likability is why we so rarely see Kline in a villain’s role, although he can play those with aplomb as well (see A Fish Called Wanda).

His chemistry with Keaton is genuine and unforced. Keaton who sometimes can overdo the neurotic thing at least doesn’t make her character a complete ditz. She does have some legitimate grievances and while the way things work out is a bit contrived (but what Hollywood film is not?) the character itself isn’t. The acting in fact is terrific all around – the movie in fact suffers from an embarrassment of riches with so many great actors in the movie that you wish some of them got a little more screen time and you tend to leave that kind of film feeling a little cheated – and yet if they’d made the film longer it would have been too long. Catch-22 lives.

While the movie ends up using the dog as a uniting force and the search for him/her as a metaphor as our own search for love and acceptance, it gets to its destination after a few too many convenient coincidences. Other than that though this is a beautifully shot movie – you also can’t go wrong setting a movie in the Rockies in the autumn, although it is Utah subbing for Colorado here. It leaves one with the warm fuzzies which isn’t a bad thing and although a lot of critics grouse about it, this isn’t a dog movie in the same sense as Marley and Me nor is it a dog of a movie in the sense of a whole lot of forgettable exercises in cinema but it is a movie that might just stick with you like a loyal, loving dog and who doesn’t love that?

WHY RENT THIS: Because, you know, dogs. I’ll see Kline in anything, even when he plays a bit of a jerk.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many contrivances. Too many great actors, not enough time.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual content as well as a bit of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Kasdan’s first time in the director chair since 2003’s Dreamcatcher.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Along with footage of the New York premiere there’s also a featurette on the casting of the dog Freeway.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $793,815 on a $12M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride (1991)
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Red Baron

New Releases for the Week of May 18, 2012


May 18, 2012

BATTLESHIP

(Universal) Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Alexander Skarsgard, Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Asana Tadanobu, Peter MacNicol, Joe Chrest, Rami Malek. Directed by Peter Berg

A sailor on board the USS John Paul Jones during a naval war games exercise gets a lot more than he bargained for when the Earth is invaded – by a foe lying in wait beneath the waves. Based on the board game from Hasbro, this comes from the producers of Transformers which might account for the look of the aliens.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language)

Darling Companion

(Sony Classics) Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest. After saving a bedraggled lost dog and taking it into her home, a woman pours her emotional center into the dog as she suffers from an empty nest and a distracted husband who’s a little self-involved. When the husband loses the dog while hosting a wedding at their vacation home in the Rockies, the hysterical woman will enlist the remaining guests in a frantic search for the love of her life.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content including references, and language)  

The Dictator

(Paramount) Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Megan Fox. The brutal dictator of an Arab republic, known to encourage terrorism, is called to address the United Nations and answer for his crimes against his people. However on his way there, his prodigious beard is shaved, rendering him unrecognizable. Will he be able to fight his way back to the UN, make his address and resume abusing his country? (Opens today)

See the trailer, clips, a promo and an Academy Awards promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R  (for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images)

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

(Lionsgate) Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Dennis Quaid, Chris Rock. A group of five couples are all expecting new arrivals – and I’m not talking deliveries from Best Buy. No, they are all going to have babies – four the usual way, one via adoption. Each has their own unique issues and all of them will intersect in one way or another. A great ensemble cast highlights this film inspired by the bestselling book that has become a bible for expectant mothers.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, thematic elements and language)