While the rest of the world contends with civil war and a lack of clean drinking water, count on chronicler of yuppie angst Lawrence Kasdan (Grand Canyon) to keep viewers up to speed on what the white-wine-and-Orvis crowd is hand-wringing about. Kasdan’s latest, Darling Companion, is a venture into the same territory he trod before in the classic, genuinely entertaining angst-fest The Big Chill — but reworked for shallower times. In Darling Companion, the assembled First World people’s problems involve high cholesterol, emotionally distant husbands, crappy cell phone reception, and lost dogs.
Beth (Diane Keaton) is the neglected wife of God-complex doctor Joseph (Kevin Kline) who has an inflated sense of his own importance and few interests outside of his work. Abandoned on the marital front, Beth channels her energies into her grown children and grandchildren until she discovers an abandoned dog by the roadside. She takes it home and names it Freeway.
An empty-nest mother craving affection and finding none of it from her husband, Beth is devastated when Joseph then loses Freeway during a walk at their Rocky Mountains vacation home, where the family has lingered on after the wedding of their daughter Grace (Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss). Also in attendance at the cabin: Joseph’s sister Penny (Dianne Wiest), her middle-aged slacker boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins), and Penny’s doctor son Bryan (the ubiquitous Mark Duplass). Adding a taste of the exotic to the white bread proceedings is the cabin’s sexy live-in caretaker Carmen (Ayelet Zurer). The assembled friends and family all fan out through the mountain trails and rustic town in a desperate search for the dog.
In a paint-by-numbers scheme, that quest to find a missing dog becomes an occasion for alienated family members to reconnect and, in one case, for love to blossom. It’s a pre-packaged set-up with a tired execution that will require Beth and Joseph to get lost in the woods, Bryan and Russell to wrangle with a backwoods hermit, and grizzled playwright/actor Sam Shepard to be wasted as the mountain community sheriff who is agonizingly trying to pass some kidney stones. But mostly, the strangely Disney-esque narrative focus is on the hunt for the dog, with all of its “you just missed him” frustration. If the cast had been tweens instead of a menopausal set, this conceit might have worked better.
Keaton is her usual restless, questing teenager in a middle-aged woman’s body, but even her jittery mannerisms have a tendency to grate more than charm in Kasdan’s unappealing vehicle. There is good work, as usual, from Wiest and Jenkins, but any of those notable performances are canceled out by the unfortunate decision to make the one non-WASP character, Carmen, into an ethnic stereotype of a hot-blooded clairvoyant who uses her sixth sense to help find Freeway. Kasdan, working from a screenplay he wrote with his wife Meg, put himself into a tight spot when he tried to contrast the yuppies with the gypsy caretaker (who feels like something out of a Bela Lugosi horror film featuring aristocrats trapped in a remote gothic mansion).
But in the end, you don’t have to be a tea-leaf reader to see Darling Companion‘s wrap-up from a mile away.