I'm a dog person. Just to be clear, by that I mean I like dogs -- not that I'm some sort of half human, half dog hybrid that's escaped from a government research facility... because that would be crazy. Very crazy. No, I'm just an ordinary fan of man's lovable, furry best friend. As such, you'd think I might be able to relate to 'Darling Companion,' a film whose IMDb plot summary reads as follows: "The story of a woman who loves her dog more than her husband. And then her husband loses the dog." Even with my affection for dogs, if you're like me, after reading that brief summary you probably thought to yourself "Wow, that sounds like a terrible movie." In the film's defense, that synopsis is pretty misleading and there really is a whole lot more to the story than that. Unfortunately, none of it is particularly good, and though the cast is strong, this is a mostly forgettable, disposable effort that fails to leave much of an impression. Even dog lovers will likely be underwhelmed.
In an effort to cope with the departure of her grownup daughters, Beth (Diane Keaton) rescues a stray dog from the side of the freeway, and in an apparent explosion of creativity, she decides to name the animal… Freeway. Though reluctant, Beth's practical but work-obsessed husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline), accepts the animal, and for a time things seem just fine. When the family all heads out to the Rockies for Beth's youngest daughter's wedding (she's marrying Freeway's vet, I kid you not), Joseph accidentally loses the animal in the Colorado wilderness. Unwilling to return home until the dog is found, Beth, Joseph, and a few visiting friends and family members form a search party. Over the next few days, they will bond together and work out their various relationship problems while they try to track down the elusive dog. Wait a sec, did I mention that they get help from a clairvoyant gypsy? Cause, uh, they do.
At times, the whole affair feels like little more than a silly Lifetime original movie, and the basic, predictable plot is often cheesy and forced. The missing dog becomes an excuse for generic relationship drama, pairing different characters up throughout the search to deal with their numerous issues. These separate misadventures and conversations are not all created equal, and certain couplings prove to be more entertaining and insightful than others. The emotional probing is pretty standard fare, with topics related to aging, self-involvement, and rationality versus irrationality, but none of it really clicks on a particularly deep level. It's not that the filmmakers' observations don't ring true, it's just that they're too broad and stale to fully connect.
Likewise, attempts at humor are very hit and miss, and some of the characters' eccentric quirks feel a little out of place. Speaking of out of place, the movie is also home to a bizarre animated dream sequence that sees Freeway brave the harsh wilderness while he runs away from a pack of wolves. Taken on its own, the sequence is actually the best part of the movie. Taken in context, however, it's absolutely hilarious, and not in a good way. Still, I now demand a fully animated spin-off focused on the dangerous misadventures of Freeway the dog! Make it happen, Hollywood. You know you want to.
While I can relate to the hysteria that results in the wake of Freeway's disappearance, Beth's irrationality can get a little out of hand. Still, I know plenty of people who would do the exact same thing in a similar situation, so it still remains believable. Unfortunately, the film breezes through Beth's initial bonding with the dog, so we actually see very little of their time together before he goes missing. This lessens the impact of his disappearance and makes it harder to sell the character's distress. Despite liking dogs, after a while I really hoped the group would just give up and leave the damn animal in the mountains. I mean, he did run away, and while the cast seems sure that he's just lost, I think Freeway merely saw a chance to escape and took it. After all, if you were trapped in the mountains with this crazy group, wouldn't you?
Craziness aside, the cast is made up of a great ensemble of veteran performers. Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, and the great Richard Jenkins are all very talented. While far from their best work, they do what they can with the material. Kline's sarcastic quips in reaction to all of the gypsy "magic" are particularly amusing. Supplying said gypsy magic is Ayelet Zurer, who despite being a great actress, has the dubious honor of playing the most annoying character in the film. Mark Duplass rounds out the main group, and together the gang has decent chemistry (I especially liked the paring of Duplass and Jenkins). As banal as most of the running time is, a climactic scene set in a cramped airplane is actually very funny, and the actors sell the exaggerated situation well.
Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan has been involved in some great films. Unfortunately, 'Darling Companion' isn't one of them. Its breezy premise lacks bite, and while there are some solid observations about aging romance, the drama and filmmaking are old fashioned, stale, and fluffy. Some comedic bits are worth a smile, but the majority of the runtime just flashes by without leaving much of an impression. It's a step up from a typical Lifetime flick, but not by much. Still, dog people might want to give it a rent. And once again, by "dog people," I mean people who like dogs, not genetically engineered dog/human creatures designed to take over the world. I mean, that's just crazy. Totally crazy. Quiet, Spot! I think they're on to us.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony brings 'Darling Companion' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc packaged in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Free of any major problems, the film comes to Blu-ray with a very solid and fairly pleasing video presentation.
Shot on the Red One, the digital source has a clean, pristine look with no notable artifacts. Clarity is good, especially in wide shots of the breathtaking wilderness and mountains of Utah (substituting for Denver). With that said, most scenes exhibit a somewhat soft appearance with less than stellar fine details and textures. A certain diffuse glow is also frequently apparent and contrast levels can be a little low. Colors are natural and evenly saturated and black levels are consistent and deep.
With the exception of its impressive outdoor locations, by its very nature, 'Darling Companion' isn't a real visual stunner. Still, this no frills video presentation is authentic and satisfying.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, a Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Optional English, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles are also included. Though the material doesn't really call for much, the mix is respectable for what it is.
Dialogue is mostly clean but there can be a comparatively thin (for a contemporary release) and faintly muffled quality in some scenes. The track offers a decent sense of ambiance, spreading atmospheric effects (nature sounds, crowds, traffic) directionally around the soundstage. With that said, the mix is quiet overall and dynamic range is on the flat side. The film's bizarrely out of place animated dream sequence is the lone exception, however, with aggressive bass and thunderous sound design. While cool on its own, the scene offers a startling break from the rest of the modest presentation.
It's far from a standout audio mix, but the track sounds pretty good. With its conversation heavy content, there's not a lot to the sound design, but it's technically proficient and perfectly serviceable.
Sony has provided a decent but mostly superficial set of special features. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and the same subtitle options as the main feature (unless noted otherwise).
'Darling Companion' is a forgettable and stale effort from Lawrence Kasdan. It aims to be sweet and insightful, but ends up feeling a bit schmaltzy and pedestrian. Still, it's not without some charm, and the flick offers a faintly amusing experience. The video transfer and audio mix are both very solid with no major problems. The supplements offer a few superficial insights but are fairly light on real substance. Dog lovers might want to give this a rent, but most will likely want to pass.