Lawrence Kasdan’s Darling Companion, the first film from the veteran writer-director since 2003’s unintentional laugh riot Dreamcatcher, is the opposite of a magnum opus. Kasdan has written and/or directed some of the most iconic films of the past 35 years (Body Heat, The Bodyguard, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, The Big Chill), but in Darling Companion, he’s seemingly made a film no one will remember, not even the people who star in it. The tone is mild, the setting is peaceful to the point of sleepiness, and the stakes are incredibly low, even with the heart-tugging central presence of an adorable animal in danger.
Diane Keaton leads a vastly overqualified cast as a big-hearted mother and wife who finds a sick dog at the side of the road while driving with her daughter, (Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss). Over the objections of her uptight, repressed doctor husband (Kevin Kline), Keaton takes it to the veterinarian. A year later, Moss and the handsome veterinarian who fixed up the dog get married in a lovely ceremony in the mountains, but after they set off for their honeymoon, Kline loses the dog that brought the happy couple together. A low-intensity search for the missing pooch ensues, spearheaded by a hot-blooded gypsy (Ayelet Zurer) who has telepathic visions of where the dog might be.
The hunt for the missing animal affords mismatched pairs an opportunity to work through their issues. Keaton and the prickly, haughty Kline use the time to help mend some of the cracks in their flawed but fundamentally healthy marriage. Richard Jenkins, as boyfriend to Kline’s sister Dianne Wiest, uses the dog-retrieval journey to convince his grumpy, skeptical potential stepson (Mark Duplass) that he’s a sweet, gentle man who genuinely loves Wiest, and not just a glad-handing goober with a dodgy-sounding plan to open an English pub that sells warm beer. Darling Companion benefits from the chemistry of a stellar cast of seasoned professionals, particularly Jenkins, who is warm and funny as a consummate mensch whose fundamental decency breaks through Duplass’ defenses. Their acting elevates some meek material, albeit only to the level of affable mediocrity.