By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Here's a literal shaggy-dog story.
Affable and relaxed to a fault, Darling Companion -- its title both ironic and ambiguous -- is about a missing dog and the human characters who search for it.
And, like the dog, this initially absorbing comedy eventually just wanders off.
But this PG-13 rated attraction isn't a family pet flick. Far from it. In fact, the dog spends the vast majority of the film off-screen.
Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton play Joseph and Beth Winter, a middle-aged married couple from Denver. Beth, finding a lost dog at the side of the freeway, brings the collie-mix home and names him Freeway.
A year later, they are marrying off the second of their two daughters, played by Elizabeth Moss, at their spacious vacation cabin in the Colorado Rockies, where they play host to Joseph's sister, played by Dianne Wiest; her intended, played by Richard Jenkins; and her son Brian (Mark Duplass), also a doctor.
Then spine surgeon Joseph, walking the dog but distracted during an important cell-phone call, loses track of Freeway, who disappears.
Beth, furious, accuses Joseph of caring more about his work than his loved ones, while Joseph feels that Beth loves the dog more than him.
So everybody in the house goes looking for the dog, and they're joined by the Gypsy caretaker (Ayelet Zurer), who tries to use her psychic powers to help, and the local sheriff (Sam Shepard), who's got anger about aging and a kidney stone to deal with as well.
Director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Body Heat, Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist, Dreamcatcher), in the director's chair for the first time in nearly a decade, wrote the shapeless, semi-autobiographical script with his wife Meg based on their experience of getting older companionably and losing a dog.
But whatever cathartic satisfaction they may get from the finished film doesn't necessarily transfer to viewers. Apparently, when the Kasdans arrived at that point in sculpting a screenplay when autobiography ceases to matter compared to narrative quality, they just stayed the course.
The problem is that looking for a missing canine, no matter how obvious it is as a metaphor for two-legged characters finding themselves as well, represents a rather flimsy spine for a feature screenplay. Talk about needing a spine surgeon!
Compound that with Kasdan's stubbornly casual, almost listless approach to the pacing and buildup, and you have a film that never quite kicks into gear.
And that's a shame because it means that the gifted quartet of Keaton, Kline, Wiest, and Jenkins -- Oscar winners and/or nominees all -- are essentially underemployed.
So we'll housetrain 2 stars out of 4 for Darling Companion, a tepid comedy about aging that should have been more engaging.
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