Starring: Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“Dreamcatcher”) and Meg Kasdan (“Grand Canyon”)
There’s nothing darling about “Darling Companion.” Come to think of it, there’s nothing endearing or satisfying or charming either. No life-affirming lessons to be learned. No significant morals about long-term relationships or unconditional love or the hardships of growing old. Not one single scene for moviegoers to feel even remotely close to any of the two or four-legged characters involved in the story. Unfortunately, real human emotion wasn’t meant to play a part in four-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan’s futile foray back onto the big screen after almost a decade. With his latest, he does everything possible to make the search for a family’s beloved pet about as interesting as someone looking for a set of missing car keys.
Beth (Diane Keaton), an empty-nester, adopts a collie mix she rescues on the side of the road much to the chagrin of her self-involved surgeon husband Joseph (Kevin Kline). Nevertheless, the dog becomes part of the family although the script offers no concrete evidence in how close the animal bonds with them over the course of a year. All of a sudden, we’re swept away to the family’s vacation home in the Rockies for a wedding. The set-up is all very trivial in reaching the main purpose of the film: finding the dog after he gets lost during a walk in the woods.
The search itself is excruciatingly dull. The script, written by Kasdan and his wife Meg, fails to effectively confront any deep-seated issues between family members. The missing pup is supposed to be an opportunity for everyone to hash out their individual problems, but the Kasdans’ clueless storytelling wastes the impressive cast they have complied, which includes Dianne Weist and Richard Jenkins. It also focuses too much time on a gypsy (Ayelet Zurer) using her mediocre psychic abilities to help find the lost Lassie look-alike. She’s always wrong, so the idea the family would actually continue to follow her guidance is an absurd plot device.
Despite his success in the 80s with films like “The Big Chill” and “The Accidental Tourist,” Kasdan, who is also lauded for writing the scripts for “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, hasn’t done anything of much importance in the last 20 years. “Companion” is definitely not the film that is going to put him in comeback mode. Maybe he’d have more luck writing a film about a director gone missing.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”)
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire (“Inkheart”)
Delivering her best performance since her Oscar-winning role as renowned author Virginia Woolf in 2002’s “The Hours,” Nicole Kidman doesn’t take her part as a grieving mother and turn it into a typical heartrending exercise.
As Becca, Kidman captures a mother’s anguish after she loses her 4-year-old son in a car accident, but she also fleshes out sensitivity, bitterness and humor in a role that could have easily come off as tedious as the mourning parents Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg play in “Lovely Bones.”
The difference here is that director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) is working from a script written by David Lindsay-Abaire based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. A “rabbit hole,” most notably from the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” is exactly where Becca and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are trying to crawl out from. After their son dies, nothing makes sense. It’s like they’re trapped in a world they no longer recognize.
Eight months after the tragic accident, Becca is ready to move on. She no longer wants to attend support group meetings and starts to get rid of anything in the house that may remind her of her son. Howie is more comfortable about expressing his feelings about his loss. He watches home movies and keeps pictures around. He also tries desperately to save his marriage from caving in. In one compelling scene, Howie attempts to seduce Becca into having sex with him. The innocent foreplay quickly turns into an argument as Becca makes it clear that life will never been the same again.
“Rabbit Hole” takes the more-is-less approach in storytelling, but unloads the emotional tension through well-written dialogue and some surprising twists in the narrative that keep it distressingly genuine. It’s impossible to even fathom what Becca and Howie are going through unless you have experienced the same pain, but “Rabbit Hole” will have you sympathize with this broken couple. You can feel them slipping away from each other with every straining moment.