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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Darling Companion

DARLING COMPANION (Three Stars)
U.S.: Lawrence Kasdan, 2012
 
Darling Companion is Lawrence and Meg Kasdan’s highly personal dog story about a beloved mutt who gets lost in the Rockies after a wedding party — and about all the humorously dramatic and comically serious interactions of the upper middle class 50something ensemble of doctors and wives and friends and gypsy housekeepers who try to find the vamoosed pooch. Despite papa Kasdan’s reputation, and a stellar cast, it’s been so eviscerated by so many critics, that my enjoyment of the movie (and I did enjoy it, right up to the unfortunately phony ending) may register as some kind of perverse AARP-truckling contrarianism.
But I thought there were a lot of good things in Companion, beginning with its excellent age-diverse cast (Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Elisabeth Moss and Sam Shepard). There‘s also a lot of wit, craft and feeling in the piece and grace, intelligence and emotion in the Kasdans’ script and in director Lawrence’s low-pressure naturalistic staging.
The movie has its flaws — that outlandishly implausible ending chiefly among them — but compared to most of the un-naturalistic, unfunny, unserious, totally phony and sometimes obnoxiously ageist and condescendingly smart-ass gloppy stuff that often passes for American movie comedy-drama these days (and that sometimes gets a pass from the same people who pile on movies like Darling Companion), it’s a movie that deserves some encouragement. I’d rather see more movies like this, with good parts for top notch actors like Kline, Keaton, Wiest and Jenkins than eight more glam-as-usual youth-besotted shows starring Justin Timberlake or Katherine Heigl and the usual suspects, with or without lost dogs.
In this case, the dog in question is Freeway (played by the estimable Kasey, who really doesn’t get as much screen time as he deserves). Freeway is found, in bad shape, by the side of a Denver freeway, by nervous, luminous spine surgeon’s wife Beth Winter (Keaton) and her picky daughter Grace (Moss), and he’s rescued, brought to a shelter, and saved by a charming vet named Sam (Jay Ali). Freeway becomes the catatlyst for the eventual wedding of Grace and Sam — at a Rocky Mountain High gathering also attended by Beth’s gifted sardonic, full-of-himself husband Joseph (Kline, terrific), earthy sister Penny (Wiest), Penny’s doctor son Bryan (indie notable Duplass) and Penny’s nice-guy fiance Russell (Jenkins), who triggers merriment when he announces his plans for opening an English pub in the Midwest. Also present; prescient gypsy housekeeper Carmen (Zurer) and cantankerous local sheriff Morris (Shepard).
An excellent cast, and they all seem to be having a good time. The plot shifts into higher geer when Freeway gets lost in the woods, thanks to some cell-phone-induced inattention by Joseph, who may be jealous of the fact that his wife showings more effection to the dog than to him. But Jospeh and all the others, an empathetic bunch, go along with Beth when she insists on a search for Freeway. (This dog hunt was inspired by the Kasdans’ own loss of a well-loved mutt named Mac, and a search for him that lasted even longer than the one here.)
Much like Kasdan‘s best-liked movie The Big Chill, several geneations ago (a show that also starred Kline), Darling Companion gets a lot of mileage out of its highly talented ensemble. The movie also shows a lot of affection for these fictional but believable people and nicely plays on our cioncern about the dog — an emotion probably felt by anyone who’s ever had an animal for a friend, especially one that came, as Freeway, mac and Kasey all did, from a shelter. Although I’m in a minority, I liked the movie, and I was especially happy to see an ensemble that came from a variety of age groups, and didn’t try to dismiss its oldsters as cutesy comic relief.

We’d be better off with more movies that tried to deal with a much wider range of people and problems, including, of course, different classes and social backgrounds — and that managed it all with the likability and skill and sympathy of Darling Companion.

SPOILER ALERT

By the way, in real life, the Kasdan family’s Mac was discovered by a local who read one of their numerous signs and had taken the lost dog in. I wish they’d used that for the ending here. It could have been a much more believable and even moving wrap-up than the one here. But I’ll cut some slack for people that so unashamedly love their dog.

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Wilmington

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas