By Madelyn Ritrosky and Jared Winslow
Darling Companion was the Opening Night film for the 2012 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The darling companion of the title is an abandoned dog (played by canine actor Kasey, a collie mix, who works through Good Dog Animals) rescued by Diane Keaton’s character, Beth Winter.
Her somewhat strained relationship with her busy husband, Joseph Winter, an orthopedic surgeon, gets tested by the dog.
When Freeway, named after the location of his rescue, winds up lost in the woods near their vacation home, it’s on Joseph’s rather careless watch. Thus various relational dynamics get set in motion as Beth, Joseph, and several others Joseph’s sister (Dianne Weist), her boyfriend (Richard Jenkins), her son (Mark Duplass), the sheriff (Sam Shepard), the Winters’ daughter’s wedding coordinator (Ayelet Zurer) search for Beth’s darling companion.
If you think of your dog as your darling companion, then you will likely enjoy this darling film. If you are a dog lover, you will love how Joseph finally loves Freeway. You might think about humans’ love of dogs more so than dogs’ love of humans when you watch this movie.
Yet, if you see how Freeway acts when his family finds him in the end, you know he loves his humans. He was scared and lost. He was waiting to hear that friendly voice calling him.
Writer-director Lawrence Kasdan explained that he and his wife, co-writer Meg Kasdan, were inspired by their experience with losing and then finding their own dog.
The film is ultimately about love and belonging and, more specifically, rediscovering connections within established relationships with Freeway setting things in motion and then bringing them to a close.
This is essentially the kind of story (think The Big Chill or Grand Canyon) for which Lawrence Kasdan is known as a filmmaker.
Attending the Opening Night world premiere was delightful for several reasons but one in particular. Some of the fun was getting see in person Lawrence Kasdan, Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, and a few other actors from the film. Perhaps most delightfully, though, one of those other actors was Kasey, who attended with his trainer, Sarah Cole, and the owners of Good Dog Animals, Steve Solomon and Guin Dill.
We spoke with Cole on the red carpet after watching Kasey pose (sit, speak, beg, bow) for all the photographers there. Kasey seemed happy to just lie down and rest while we talked about him.
Kasey is very well trained so he knew how to behave, but there are so many personalities and greetings dogs can have.
Kasey seemed laid back, like he had been in front of cameras and people before because he had. He resisted the urge to run up to the press along the red carpet.
As reporters asked questions of his trainer, Kasey would lay down from boredom. Like most dogs, he would probably rather eat, sleep, or play!
In the film, Freeway was not the super playful type because the character was supposed to be abandoned and was not a puppy.
Freeway had given up hope, injured and alone as traffic whizzed by, but he was then given plenty of hope when he was saved.
Neither the actor, Kasey on the red carpet, nor the character of Freeway ever growled. This showed that Kasey was well trained and Freeway was humble and thankful. Both Kasey and Freeway are loyal dogs.
Freeway loved the Winters very much; he just got lost in the woods. Kasey also seemed to love Sarah Cole very much because in real life, Kasey was also rescued. His previous owner would just leave him tied to a tree. He now lives with AC and several other dogs who also work through Good Dog Animals.
So dogs are appreciative and loyal, devoted to the humans who love and help them. Think of other dog movies we have reviewed and you may have seen, like Red Dog or Hachi. Those movies are based on true stories. Talk about loyalty.
Also see Jared’s/part of 6 short reviews: http://emol.org/film/archives/heartlandfilmfestival/2009/jaredfilms.html
(photos: Kasey as Freeway and Diane Keaton as Beth Winter; Diane Keaton at Opening Night; Kasey poses for photographers on the red carpet; Kevin Kline answers questions on the red carpet)