Lawrence and meg kasdan wrote one of my favorite movies: Grand Canyon, a 1991 film about six people who find their lives intersecting in Los Angeles. Like other movies directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist), it contains a number of remarkable lines of dialogue. One, spoken by Steve Martin, stands out. “That’s part of your problem … you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”
One of life’s riddles about dogs is answered in the new movie Darling Companion, also co-written by the Kasdans. The riddle is this: how do dogs remind us of our own humanity? The film also shows how dogs bring us closer to one another.
The movie tells the tale of a longtime married couple who look just fine on the outside. Dr. Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline) and his wife Beth (Diane Keaton) have it all, including a gorgeous second home in the Colorado Rockies. But under the surface we see that, obsessed by his career as a surgeon, Winter is rarely fully present for their lives. The movie truly begins when Beth’s emptiness is accidently filled by a rescued dog named Freeway.
As Meg Kasdan says, “We thought of Dr. Winter as a distracted person, in this case, by his career. Their relationship was beginning to fray from it.” Lawrence adds, “We really wanted to make it about paying attention, being present. It doesn’t matter if it’s a wife, husband or anyone else … not paying attention is a metaphor.” And not paying attention is exactly what happens when Beth’s beloved Freeway runs off into the woods and gets lost. This is based on a true story from an episode in the Kasdans’ 40-year marriage.
The couple spoke to me from their office in Los Angeles; it was a breezy conversation among three complete dog fans. As soon as I told them I believe dogs take us to our higher selves, they knew we would connect on this film … and share the joy and gratitude dogs bring to our lives. Lawrence believes that “the world changes when you love a dog, or a pet of any kind. You have a sensitivity you didn’t have before. You identify at the vet with others … you see the worry, the comfort, the control. It all opens a whole new world.” Meg, a true partner in doggie love, goes on. “We spend a lot of time with three dogs. We have our own rescue mutt — a Cattle Dog/Shepherd mix, Mack — and our son’s two dogs. We all walk together in the woods … they give us the best, fullest way to experience wilderness.”
They had their dog-centered story to tell, but how would they find just the right dog to take center stage? Lawrence realized that there’s no casting couch when looking for a dog star in a movie. “With this movie, I knew a trainer would be as important as finding the right D.P. or actor. We needed a great dog and a great trainer.” After interviewing many trainers with dogs, Meg said they were thrilled with the work done by Steve Solomon and Sarah Cole and their dog Kasey, a mixed breed with Collie and German Shepherd in his background. Lawrence looked for the quality in a dog that he most cherishes in an actor: “the ability to be in repose … to listen. Kasey can just sit or lie down and be contented to be there. He also looked so right; he is a rescue dog playing a rescue dog … He had nicks and scratches.”
With a few welcome exceptions like The Artist, Beginners or Our Idiot Brother, dogs in movies too often are exploited, reduced to props used for cruel laughter or a character’s neglect or abuse. Darling Companion not only keeps the dog love sweet and soulful, it drives both the plot and the characters. According to Lawrence, “The search in the film for the dog is a metaphor for people searching for their own connections to each other.” In the movie, Russ (Richard Jenkins) and Penny (Dianne Wiest) have found each other later in life, while the younger characters (played by Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass) are beginning the search for caring and commitment. They all are searching for the dog and for each other.