Darling Companion, the new film from director Lawrence Kasdan, has one of the greatest ensembles you’ll ever see. From its central players to the supporting cast, almost every role is played by someone fantastic. Unfortunately, it also proves that you can have the greatest group of performers in the world, but it’s meaningless if they aren’t working from an even halfway decent script.
The story begins when Beth (Diane Keaton) and her daughter, Grace (Elisabeth Moss), discover a stray dog on the side of the highway. Despite protests from Grace’s husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline), who is too preoccupied with his surgical career to have time for his wife, Beth adopts the dog, names it Freeway, and they grow to become best friends. One year later, the entire family, including Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest), her boyfriend, Russell (Richard Jenkins) and Penny’s son, Bryan (Mark Duplass), get together for Grace’s wedding in the Rocky mountains. Following the reception, however, Joseph goes for a walk with the dog and accidentally loses him. Distressed about losing her animal pal, Beth gets everyone to stay and try to find Freeway. Guided by the cabin caretaker (Ayelet Zurer), who may or may not be a psychic gypsy, the group splits off into groups to go search for the missing mutt.
While any pet owner can relate to the title of Darling Companion, a more apt name for the film would be White People Problems: The Movie. Living in a very different world that the average American, the characters in the story don’t act overly pretentious, but it’s clear that none of them have worried about anything important in decades. There are casual references to the need to return home and go to work, but it’s never more than a throwaway suggestion and nobody actually goes through with it. As distressing as the idea of losing a pet is, the edge is taken off when it feels like the family could afford to hire the New York Yankees to help them in their search.
Writers Lawrence and Meg Kasdan clearly have no idea what to do with their characters, switching up the search parties to try to give all the actors some one-on-one time with each other, but scattering the narrative so it seems more focused on establishing funny situations than building relationships or furthering the plot. Bryan and Russell, who have an awkward rapport due to the fact that Russell is sleeping with Bryan’s mother, are teamed up at one point, but instead of having them actually deal with a real situation they are instead forced to go up against a smelly crazy guy in the woods who collects stray dogs. The Kasdans confuse time spent together with emotional growth, leaving the audience with no connection to the characters and no reason to care about what happens to them.
In addition to failing as a drama, Darling Companion is also groan-worthy as a comedy. Jenkins gets the worst of it, and though he has proven time and time again that with a great script he can work wonders, there wasn’t a good script to be found on the set of this movie. Russell talks frankly about his sexual relationship with Penny and dreams of opening a British-style pub in Omaha, Nebraska, but the movie confuses awkwardness for humor and the results are eye-roll worthy.
Nice as it is to see so many great actors occupying the same screen, that charm quickly wears off as the film drags on. Darling Companion feels like a movie compiled from old favors, each actor owing something to the writers, producers or each other. How else could so many immensely talented people end up being involved with such a terrible project?