Thursday, April 26, 2012

When bad movies happen to good people

Great cast -- and not much else in Darling Companion.
I hate when this happens.

About a month ago, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan visited Denver with his wife Meg. They were on the road promoting Kasdan’s independently produced Darling Companion, which they co-wrote, which Kasdan directed and which opened the Boulder International Film Festival. (See interview below.)

Kasdan, of course, has had an estimable career, co-writing the screenplays for great populist fare such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and distinguishing himself on smaller movies such as Body Heat and The Big Chill.

So what’s to hate about any of this?

Only this: I liked Kasdan and enjoyed meeting him, which makes it all the more difficult to report that his latest movie struck me as thoroughly mediocre.

See what I mean? I hate when I like the filmmaker, but not the movie. But in the case of Darling Companion, that's what I'm stuck with.

Put another way, if a director has a cast that includes Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Richard Jenkins, and Dianne Wiest and still comes up short, it’s a good bet that the material is to blame.

Darling Companion isn’t funny when it wants to be, and it's not dramatic enough to be taken seriously as a sobering look at family frictions. It's strictly middle of the road.

Kline and Keaton play Joseph and Beth, a Denver-based husband and wife mired in a stale marriage. After their second daughter (Elizabeth Moss) marries at the couple's mountain retreat, the family hangs around for a little R&R.

Beth and Joseph are joined by Joseph's sister Penny (Wiest) and her obnoxiously friendly boyfriend (Jenkins). Penny's son Bryan (Mark Duplass) serves as a youthful add-on. Like Joseph, he's a doctor.

A lost dog puts the story in motion. Freeway -- so named because Beth found him on the side of a road -- races off, creating relationship tension between Joseph and Beth and setting off a variety of searches, one of them prompted by the family’s supposedly clairvoyant housekeeper, a preposterous character played by Ayelet Zurer.

Kasdan allows our perceptions about at least one of the characters to change as the movie progresses. Jenkins' character, whose life-transforming idea involves opening a British pub in Omaha, turns out to be less horrible than he initially seems.

Look, Darling Companion is small potatoes, a pallid misfire from Kasdan and his stellar cast.

Enough. I think you can tell where I'm coming from. I had more fun talking to the Kasdans than I did watching their movie. And I hope the fact that Darling Companion hasn't exactly been lighting critical fires -- as of this writing, the movie had earned an unfortunate 15 on Rotten Tomatoes -- doesn't dissuade them from trying another small, personal drama -- only one that works.

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