It's been about ten years since Lawrence Kasdan stepped behind a camera; having helped usher in the era of modern Hollywood blockbusters in the early 1980s with his scripts for The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi, he really can't get a job these days, even despite his role as writer for the box-office bonanza that was The Bodyguard. The irony is heightened by the fact that Mr. Kasdan's own work as writer/director from 1981's Body Heat on has always been about celebrating classic, script-driven American filmmaking; since then, studios have either proved unwilling or uninterested in backing his ensemble pieces about the modern American middle-class, and his last directing job was as a hack-for-hire in an underwhelming adaptation of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher that proved a sorry mismatch.

     Darling Companion, billed as the third in a loose trilogy about the trials of modern baby-boomers after The Big Chill and Grand Canyon, is a perfect fit for Mr. Kasdan's sensibility: a bitter-sweet ensemble comedy about people realising the ways their lives have changed, with exquisitely tuned dialogue expertly performed by a cast to die for who relish this type of well-written characters that seldom come their way. The difference, here, is Mr. Kasdan has gone low-budget - and it shows in the generally underwhelming handling and, more disturbingly, in the slippage in quality control. Not necessarily when it comes to the performances; this tale of a Denver family reunion where the disappearance of the matriarch's rescued dog brings to light the extent of sore feelings opts for some really facile choices especially coming from such a talented writer. (The gypsy caretaker Carmen is the most egregious offender, even though Ayelet Zurer is perfectly fine and rounds her off nicely.) Worse, there is a sense of weariness that was absent in the director's previous work; Mr. Kasdan never was much of a stylist, but here there is an unexpected creakiness that mars the good ensemble work.

     It's not enough to spoil the film, carried by the director's usual stellar dialogue and the meaty performances from an ever more radiant Diane Keaton and the woefully underused Dianne Wiest, though there really isn't a bum note in the cast. While not a classic by any stretch, Darling Companion shows Mr. Kasdan can still do well what he does best. If only people would let him do it more often.

Mark Duplass, Richard Jenkins, Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Elisabeth Moss, Sam Shepard, Dianne Wiest, Ayelet Zurer.

Director, Lawrence Kasdan; screenplay, Meg Kasdan, Mr. Kasdan; cinematography, Michael McDonough (colour, widescreen); music, James Newton Howard; designer, Dina Goldman; costumes, Molly Maginnis; editor, Carol Littleton; producers, Anthony Bregman, Mr. Kasdan, Elizabeth Redleaf (Werc Work Works, Likely Story, Kasdan Pictures), USA, 2011, 102 minutes.

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon screening room, Lisbon, July 17th 2012. 


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