Darling Companion Blu-ray Review
I’ll be honest with you. The first few times I looked at the DARLING COMPANION Blu-ray cover/box I didn’t want to watch it. Not that it looked bad, per say, there just wasn’t anything that grabbed me and screamed “Watch ME!” It didn’t help matters that this looked like a movie about a family dog – my wife and I lost both of our family’s dogs in the past 10 months, one of them just a week ago. Knowing how raw I’ve been feeling, as much as I love animals, I was afraid I would be unfairly biased against DARLING COMPANION from the beginning. If anything, my current circumstances had the opposite impact.
DARLING COMPANION begins by introducing us to Beth and Grace, a mother and daughter who seem to have lots of interesting family dynamics. Beth is married to Joseph, a spine surgeon who is her emotional opposite. Where Beth is emotional and reactive Joseph is cold, unflappable. Grace is their younger daughter, the peacekeeper of the family who tries to keep everyone going – but she’s leaving for school. Beth is a wreck with her daughters no longer living at home, so when she sees a dog on the side of the road she decides to save it. Despite intending only to help the dog and find it a new home, this beautiful mutt (who they subsequently name “Freeway”) becomes part of the family and suddenly Beth’s life has meaning again.
Grace falls in love with the veterinarian, Sam, who helps them with Freeway, and a year later the entire family vacations in the Rocky Mountains to celebrate Grace and Sam’s wedding. Freeway has firmly entrenched himself within the family, until he is lost in the woods chasing after a deer. The family who are still at the cabin: Joseph, Beth, Joseph’s sister Penny and her boyfriend Russell, Penny’s son Bryan, and gypsy cabin-caretaker Carmen, all do anything that they can think of to help Beth find Freeway, but also struggle with how long they should search before they just have to give up.
The family dynamics in DARLING COMPANION are what make the movie. The relationship between Joseph and Beth, while strained, also has an underlying sense of caring and love that helps make their relationship believable. It also helps that Beth and Joseph are played by the fantastic Diane Keaton (SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE, 2003) and Kevin Kline (NO STRINGS ATTACHED, 2011). They work well as a couple and play the polar opposites of the emotional spectrum in an authentic way. But the real stars of the movie are Dianne Wiest as Penny (who won an Oscar for her work in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994), the phenomenally talented Richard Jenkins as boyfriend Russell (BURN AFTER READING, 2008) and Mark Duplass of THE LEAGUE (2011) as Bryan. In fact the entire cast is phenomenal and puts together a nice portrait of a family.
But there are problems. The biggest one is DARLING COMPANION’s presentation as a ‘dog-family’ movie. Yes, the movie is ostensibly about how a dog changes a family, but when Freeway runs off 2/3 of the way into the first Act, DARLING COMPANION loses steam and never fully recovers. The relationship of the family with the dog, and how their relationships are enhanced, just aren’t developed very well – the filmmakers’ Kasdan assume too much of their story and leave us in kind of a lurch.
In fact, it is more of a movie about how the SEARCH for Freeway brings them together than it is about the relationships themselves. Add in a weird ‘gypsy’ twist and it gets more and more uneven. I don’t know why there need to be allusions to some sort of psychic activity, besides acting as the driving force to keep the family searching the mountain. It just doesn’t work for me. Thankfully the performances pull DARLING COMPANION up and up and up… but this could be a great movie instead of an okay movie with lots of heart – and in the end that’s all it is.
Video: (1080p, 2.35:1 Widescreen) The video of DARLING COMPANION is beautifully presented and it gives an incredible, colorful presentation of the Rocky Mountains.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) DARLING COMPANION presents audio competently without opportunity for any flash. The presentation is simple but effective.
Audio Commentary with writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer/executive producer Meg Kasdan, and star Kevin Kline (01:43:54) Lawrence Kasdan states at the opening of the commentary this is the first one he has done for any of his films… it is a shame. He gives some nice tidbits but is too involved with watching DARLING COMPANION to speak freely about the process.
DARLING COMPANION: Behind the Scenes (04:56) Cast and crew discuss their connection with DARLING COMPANION. Pulling together this type of a cast for a film like this is really a coup, and the crew know how lucky they were.
Behind the Scenes: Lawrence Kasdan (05:02) The cast and crew talk about how much they enjoyed working with Mr. Kasdan. They present an interesting philosophical Kasdan trilogy ending with DARLING COMPANION and starting with Kline and Kasdan in THE BIG CHILL and carrying over to GRAND CANYON.
Finding Freeway: Dog People (03:34) Various cast and crew talk about their own dogs, how the dogs were selected for DARLING COMPANION.
On the Red Carpet: New York Premiere (02:42) Informal interviews with cast and crew round out the special features with this brief, choppily-edited featurette from the Premiere of DARLING COMPANION.
The DARLING COMPANION Blu-ray also contains previews for other Sony Pictures Classics and the Theatrical Trailer (02:22).