Darling Companion

June 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

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.

No Strings Attached

January 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline
Directed by: Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex Girlfriend”)
Written by: Elizabeth Meriwether (debut)

To the average moviegoer, terms like “romantic comedy” and the less chivalrous-sounding “chick flick” are probably synonyms. A few clever filmmakers have discovered ways to divert from the typical clichés and create those rare date movies men and women can sit through without wondering why the hell they’re on a date with someone who enjoys this crap. In the last five years: “Lars and the Real Girl,” “Ghost Town,” “(500) Days of Summer,” and almost everything directed by Judd Apatow have been noteworthy contributions to the generally watered-down genre.

Then there are movies like “No Strings Attached,” a rom-com so desperate to be the next “The 40 Year Old Virgin” or “Knocked Up” (and thus peeling away the “chick flick” label) it only manages sporadic moments of originality before reverting back into safety-first Kate Hudson-mode.

It’s unfortunate, since “Strings” is starred by Natalie Portman, who comes off the most impressive role of her career in “Black Swan.” She rarely flaunts her comedic chops, much less in a rom-com as easily accessible as this. Here, she plays Emma, a cynical medical student-in-residence who opts for a casual sex-only relationship with Adam (Kutcher), a soft-hearted TV production assistant she’s known since his horny teenage years. Of course, with copulation comes those icky things called feelings and before another box of Trojans opens, the sexcapades have turned into fully-clothed spooning sessions (a no-no in “friends with benefits” etiquette).

While Portman is still charming despite the lightweight and occasionally raunchy dialogue by first-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether, the same can’t be said for Kutcher’s coyness. At least in a movie like “(500) Days of Summer,” actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was believable as a genuinely nice guy who falls in love with an icy princess. Kutcher’s mushy façade, however, is pitiful. It’s hard to accept him as a hopeless romantic when he’s drunk-dialing girls and asking them if they know of a place where he can put his boner.

At times, director Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex Girlfriend”) seems like he might cross the line and actually give these characters spines. But Reitman, who has never really gotten any dirtier than campers reading smut in “Meatballs,” is out of his element. Forcing the issue only makes matters worse, especially in a movie that mistakes a little fun between the sheets with edge.