** (out of four)
My wife and I just adopted my in-laws' 7-year-old dog, an extremely lovable miniature dachshund named Rosie. I am exactly the right person to find warmth in "Darling Companion," in which Beth (Diane Keaton) rescues a 7-year-old dog from the side of a snowy Colorado road. A year later, the dog runs off when Beth's husband Joseph (Kevin Kline), a self-absorbed spine surgeon, pays more attention to the person on the other end of his cell phone than the pooch, dubbed Freeway, sprinting after a deer.
Except director/co-writer Lawrence Kasdan ("The Big Chill") neglects to develop the bond between Beth and Freeway. Don't just say "One year later," show the ol' guy growing to love and comfort his new mom. Instead, Kasdan, who wrote the script with his wife Meg, skips ahead to the human shenanigans between Beth and Joseph, as well as Joseph's sister Penny (Dianne Weist) and her loopy boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins). The latter couple plans to open an English pub in Omaha, an idea that shows as much common sense as Penny's son Bryan (Mark Duplass) falling for the self-described gypsy (Ayelet Zurer of "Angels and Demons") whose visions attempt to lead the group to their lost, four-legged family member.
Movie characters don't always have to be likable, but the loose-yet-uptight "Darling Companion" comes populated not with appealingly flawed folks but a group of people we're unpleasantly forced to put up with. Kasdan wants to tap into a family working out the kinks, and occasionally the film articulates the finesse it sometimes takes to keep bonds from fraying. Mostly, though, the movie drifts without blossoming, leaning on goofy scenes like Joseph yelping to ward off rams or Russell proving his worth in the face of a grizzled mountain man that feel desperate instead of revealingly funny.
This ponderous dramedy should make you want to sit and stay; I kept wanting to say to these irritating characters, "No barking!"
** (out of four)