Darling Companion (2012), the new drama directed by the legendary Lawrence Kasdan (director and screenwriter of the Oscar winning The Accidental Tourist (1988) as well screenwriter of blockbusters like The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983)), and which he co-wrote with his wife Meg, is a film which it is hard to dislike even though it tests your endurance to the limit. Starring Hollywood luminaries Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Diane Wiest and Richard Jenkins, this story of how a dog is adopted by a family and changes their lives forever, starts promisingly, gets lost halfway through, yet manages to redeem itself by the end.
Beth (Keaton) and her daughter Grace (Elizabeth Moss) discover a stray dog one day and take him home, much to the chagrin of Beth’s husband Joseph (Kline). Time passes and the dog – now christened Freeway in honour of where he was found – looks set to become a permanent fixture of family life, with Beth growing increasingly attached to him. However, after Joseph inadvertently looses Freeway while walking him near their holiday home in the mountains, the tensions which have been bubbling beneath the surface of his marriage with Beth eventually boil over with life-changing result for them both.
The old adage that actors should not work with children or animals was never truer than for this film as the real star of the piece proves to be Freeway, the dog which to all intents holds together not only the family who rescue him, but also the film’s overall narrative. When Freeway gets lost so does the story, with it steadily becoming an in-depth study of the strained relationships of Beth and Joseph as well as the various members of their extended family.
Which is where the real problem with Darling Companion lies. It is clear from the outset that, Keaton and Kline aside, the dog is the real star of the film. However unlike other canine centred dramas such as the recent hit Marley & Me (2008), where the dog remained in view for the majority of screen-time, here it seems that the central character is pushed to the sidelines for most of the one hundred and three minute running time. As a result you are subjected to the deterioration of Beth and Joseph’s relationship playing out as she becomes convinced he no longer cares about her, and that she has now lost her only true friend with the disappearance of Freeway.
The mountainous setting of Telluride in Colorado makes an awe-inspiring backdrop for the story to unfold against, whilst deep down the family appear loving enough, and suitably wealthy in the fashion so favoured by American cinema, that lesser mortals might be left querying what the crises stricken Beth really has to worry about other than the loss of her beloved Freeway.
It will hardly spoil things to reveal that everything ends up happily-ever-after, with a schmaltzy, overly sentimentalised Hollywood ending. Strangely though, by the time the film finishes you are not left with a saccharine aftertaste, but instead a warm, all-be-it short-lived glow, of the kind you inevitably get from a frothy and ultimately shallow concoction such as this.