'Darling Companion' Review: A Shaggy Dog Story Without Bite

“Love is love. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog.” Diane Keaton’s character says in the new family drama "Darling Companion."

The film, directed by Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill," "Wyatt Earp"), tells a nice — but sometimes desperate — story about a family coming together to search for their missing dog.

It's a movie many will want to love — it features a missing dog, for goodness sake — but will find themselves merely satisfied. It’s hard to love this "Companion," but I enjoyed it for what it was: a complacent, uncomplicated family drama.

The story begins with Beth (Diane Keaton) and Joseph (Kevin Kline) in what appears to be an easy marriage. He's a successful surgeon whose schedule keeps him busy, while Beth seems bored now that her children are out of the house. One of the things that has kept this couple so happy is their daughter Grace ("Mad Men's" Elizabeth Moss), but she's about to move out of their home as the story opens.

One day, Beth notices a dog on the side of the road and decides to take care of him until they can find his rightful owner. This, of course, is one of those movies where the wife brings home a dog and the husband adamantly insists that they won’t keeping him.

Cut to a few scenes later, and the dog is theirs.

Beth and Joseph end up hosting Grace's wedding at a remote cabin, and it's there we meet Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest), her son (Mark Duplass) and her idealistic boyfriend (Richard Jenkins). Soon enough, on a walk outside the house, Joseph loses the dog, leading to a frantic, extended search.

What is wonderful about this story is the familiar but warm family dynamic on display. Kasdan worked with his wife, Meg Kasdan, on the screenplay, and the film isn’t afraid to focus on the love that this family shares, despite their personal failings.

"Companion" does have some obvious weaknesses. The cabin’s caretaker — an odd character to be in a movie like this — believes that she has visions of the dog’s whereabouts leading the story in some strange directions that divert from its core. It’s one thing to watch a family working to find a missing dog; it’s another to have them lead by a woman who believes she senses where the dog has run off to.

The cast, as well, has a few obvious weaknesses. At times, Keaton’s shrill and oftentimes frantic performance goes over the top. I think Keaton is a fine actress but her character should have been more constrained. Also, Duplass is miscast as Penny’s son. With little depth in his personality, he just seems to be along for the ride.

If there is one actor who proves his worth in this motion picture, it’s Kline. His performance and personality are so inviting that I simply wanted to watch him. After seeing him in this, it’s hard not to wish that he made more movies (His industry nickname is Kevin Decline for turning down roles).

Overall, I recommend "Darling Companion" for its nice story and simple yet endearing sensitivities. It’s an adult family drama at a time when few movies fit that description.


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