Diane Keaton as Beth and Kasey as Freeway in DARLING COMPANION, a film by Lawrence Kasdan. Photo by Wilson Webb, and courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
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Darling Companion (2012)
Opened: 04/20/2012 Limited
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: PG-13 for for some sexual content including references, and language.
On the side of a busy freeway, a woman finds the love, devotion, commitment, and courage she needs -- all wrapped up in a bloodied stray dog who becomes her "darling companion." When the beloved canine goes missing, a shaggy-dog search adventure plays out, drawing together friends and family and rekindling a lifelong love.
BETH (Diane Keaton) and JOSEPH WINTER (Kevin Kline) are a long-married couple living comfortably in the Denver suburbs. Joseph, a successful, busy surgeon, is regarded by his wife as pompous and self-involved, while Beth, an empty-nester now that their daughters are grown, is considered high-strung and overly-emotional by her husband. While they're sometimes testy with each other, they're united in pride and pleasure in their family.
One wintry day, driving with daughter GRACE (Elisabeth Moss), Beth spots something on the side of the freeway and insists they pull over. Nestled in the roadside shrubbery is a dog -- frightened, banged-up, but clear-eyed and responsive. With uncharacteristic boldness, the women coax and carry the injured stray to their car and take him to a vet. Not only is the dog saved, but he brings good fortune in the bargain: the handsome young vet, SAM (Jay Ali) locks eyes with Grace, and a romantic spark is kindled.
Before long the dog, aptly named Freeway, is a beloved family member. A year passes, and Grace and Sam are engaged to marry. The festive wedding is held at the family's lodge-style country cabin in the High Rockies. Once newlyweds and guests depart, Joseph and Beth are left to relax with a few stragglers: Joseph's sister PENNY (Dianne Wiest) and her new beau RUSSELL (Richard Jenkins); Penny's son BRYAN (Mark Duplass), who is also a surgeon in medical practice with his uncle Joseph; and the cabin's caretaker CARMEN (Ayelet Zurer), whose exotic beauty and accent lend her an alluring air of mystery. Beth and Joseph are unimpressed with the artlessly friendly Russell, worrying that Penny is being seduced by an opportunistic loser. Bryan, equally wary of Russell, becomes distracted by the lovely Carmen.
This cozy house party is thrown into crisis mode when Freeway, out for a woodland ramble with Joseph, bounds away after a deer. Joseph is relatively nonchalant about Freeway's disappearance -- he's a dog, he'll find his way home -- but Beth immediately launches a full-scale, all-hands search party that keeps up far into the night. The whole town goes on alert via radio announcements and reward flyers; they even summon the local SHERIFF (Sam Shepard) on his day off. A second day goes by with no sign of Freeway.
Beth is devastated, furious at Joseph, and inconsolable with worry that Freeway has perished. But Carmen assures them that Freeway lives, confiding that she has a gift for finding things, passed down from her mother's Roma forebears. With a real-life Gypsy psychic in their midst, the search party is re-energized, putting skepticism aside to follow Carmen's "third eye" and its vexingly vague insights -- something about a yellow house, or maybe a blue house, or maybe a red-haired woman...
As Penny pairs off with Carmen on the search, and Bryan pairs off with Russell, bonds of friendship strengthen among them. But Freeway remains lost, and Beth and Joseph get lost too; hours hiking and bickering along rugged mountain trails turn dark, stormy, and treacherous. When Joseph tumbles down a steep hillside and dislocates his shoulder, Beth rescues him, and their misadventure draws them closer. Even as they give up hope of ever seeing Freeway again, they rediscover their enduring love and commitment.
On the commuter plane taking them back to civilization, Beth glances out the window and is convinced she sees Freeway in a meadow below. She's so certain that Joseph fakes a health crisis to get the plane turned around. Back on the ground, they race to the meadow. With husband, family, and friends loyally accompanying her, Beth calls and whistles to Freeway one last time -- and her canine companion runs to her for a joyful reunion.
Darling Companion is a comedy about many varieties of companionship. At the center of the movie is a marriage that has gone on for a long time and become frayed. Surrounding that union are young people falling in love, a brand-new marriage and the surprise of mid-life romance.
The film is also about the connection that sometimes happens between a human being and a pet -- the love, friendship and solace that can pass between species.
Anyone who's ever had a dog knows they live in the moment. That fact of their behavior can have a revivifying effect on the people around them. While humans worry about the future and mull over the past, dogs bring us back to the present with the uncomplicated joy they take in the here and now -- getting outside with us for a walk, having their meal, being stroked.
The movie probably began the day my wife Meg and I rescued a mutt named Mac from a cacophonous dog shelter in Los Angeles. After taking that dog into our lives and affections, he was lost during an outing in the Rockies. We spent three weeks searching, calling his name up and down mountain trails, enlisting our friends and family. The whole town was on the lookout. Just at the moment we had given up hope, a stranger who had seen our flyers found Mac playing with her dogs by the river. Mac was dirty and thin, but uninjured. Friends and searchers around town and across the country celebrated his recovery.
The characters in Darling Companion are fictional, but the sense of how our affection for these animals can bring people together is very true to this production. This is my eleventh film, but my first independent production. The incredible cast and crew who agreed to work with us -- for scale -- signed on because they responded strongly to the story.
The production brought together old friends we've worked with for many years, like Kevin Kline, our longtime editor, Carol Littleton, our composer, James Newton Howard, and costume designer Molly Maginnis. We were able to attract people whose work we've admired forever, like Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepard; and people just now taking off in the film business, like director of photography Michael McDonough and production designer Dina Goldman.
We converged in Utah to shoot our movie with a limited budget and a tight schedule, helped along by some very remarkable dogs and their equally remarkable trainers.
Darling Companion became one of the most gratifying filmmaking experiences I've ever had.
-- Lawrence Kasdan
About the Production
Darling Companion reunites Director Lawrence Kasdan with longtime filmmaking colleagues, showcases an ensemble of characters portrayed by some of his favorite actors, catches some acclaimed behind-the-camera talent on a career upswing, and introduces another whole category of leading player to the Kasdan opus: the charismatic non-human.
Call out the Hounds
"We wanted a mixed breed to play Freeway," says Meg Kasdan, Co-Writer with husband Lawrence of the Darling Companion script, which was based on their own experience loving, losing, searching for and finding their beloved shelter mutt Mac in the High Rockies. "We're prejudiced, of course, but we think mutts are the best dogs. Our Freeways -- really played by two dogs -- are consummate professionals, and their trainers are, too."
Kasey, a multi-colored Collie mix, and Kuma, his Aussie mix understudy, are seasoned animal actors who came to the production through "Good Dog Animals," run by professional trainers Guin Dill and Steve Solomon.
Kasey and Kuma have life stories to rival Freeway's: they were both spotted in shelters by trainers who recognized the right personalities, smarts, and charisma for great onscreen canines. Kasey had been abandoned in the desert, found with an old rope embedded into his neck (he still bears a scar). He was found in the Las Vegas shelter while his trainer was on a shoot there.
Kuma was adopted from the South L.A. shelter when he was a just a young puppy. The Kasdans had also adopted their cattle-dog mix, Mac, from an L.A. shelter.
Real Life and Reel Life
The filmmakers took their inspiration not only from Mac's three-week long lost-and-found epic [see Director's Statement], but also from Meg's sister's dramatic real-life rescue of a dog on the side of a Detroit freeway. "She pulled over and scrambled up the embankment, just like Diane in the movie. It's amazing how the instinct to protect an animal can galvanize you," says Meg Kasdan. Her sister named the dog Freeway, and the name stuck to the movie's canine character.
The involvement of an entire mountain town in the search for a dog is true, including the participation of a friend who offered psychic clues to Mac's whereabouts. "Just as Carmen says in the film, our friend confessed 'I've never told you this, but I find things.' This was someone we'd known for years, so the fact that she kept this secret made it more credible to us," says Lawrence Kasdan. "Like Carmen, her insights were vague and she was never really right or wrong, but she kept us going and gave us hope."
Lest a viewer take the autobiographical aspect too far, "For the record," says Kasdan, "The characters played by Kevin and Diane are fictional. But we did experience how intensely emotional that disappearance was. A lost dog may not seem important, but as Beth says, 'Love is love.' Our search for Mac showed us how people can rally their best selves. The hunt for the dog in the movie becomes the catalyst for some emotional reckoning among the searchers."
Darling Companion, Lawrence Kasdan's eleventh feature film, can be seen as the third of a trilogy including The Big Chill and Grand Canyon (also co-written with Meg Kasdan). Each is a comic drama portraying ensemble casts of characters roughly Kasdan's contemporaries, following them through their 30s (in The Big Chill), 40s (in Grand Canyon), and now into their later mid-years after families are grown and gone. "Diane's character has a space in her life. She's an empty nester, and her husband is so wrapped up in work he can't understand her feelings and loses patience with her volatile emotions," says producer Anthony Bregman. "It's the fraying of a long marriage, the irritations that fill up the vaccuum. That's why Freeway becomes so important to Beth and ultimately to Joseph, too. The dog leads the people back to each other."
Friends and Family
Solid bonds are evident in the production, too. Kevin Kline stars in all three films, and editor Carole Littleton, A.C.E., has cut nine of Kasdan's films: "She's a wonderful collaborator and a very good friend who's totally on our wavelength" says Meg Kasdan. Composer James Newton Howard has written the scores for six of Kasdan's films. Actor Richard Jenkins (Russell) made his feature film debut in Kasdan's Silverado, and Elisabeth Moss (Grace) acted in Kasdan's Mumford.
"Plus," says Lawrence Kasdan, "we got to work with some of the amazing actors we've admired for so long, like Keaton and Wiest and Sam Shepard, so it felt like a reunion anyway."
Kasdan considers the production very fortunate in securing the participation of director of photography Michael McDonough: "When I saw Michael's work in Winter's Bone, which was a magnificent piece of outdoor photography, I knew he'd be perfect to capture the magnificent Rockies landscape, the stormy weather, and the great faces of these actors in Darling Companion." The mountain locations include Utah's American Fork and the towns of Park City and Sundance; and in Colorado, the town of Telluride.
The entire cast and crew worked on Darling Companion, Kasdan's first non-studio, independent feature, for scale. "Not only all these normally highly-paid actors, but wonderful production design and costume departments, hugely talented and experienced professionals," says Kasdan.
"We were lucky, but it came together because all these people responded to the story," says producer Elizabeth Redleaf. "At the end of the production, the crew presented Lawrence with a scrapbook showing pictures of themselves with their own dogs. It's heartening to find so much shared purpose and feeling in a movie production atmosphere."