Diane Keaton in a dog movie may sound, on the surface, as though the actress is clinging to grab on to a role of any kind at this juncture in her career, but Lawrence Kasdan's (who also directed Kevin Kline in The Big Chill, Grand Canyon, and French Kiss) Darling Companion is proof that Keaton can turn any film that would otherwise be deemed completely bathetic into something semi-watchable. In the case of Darling Companion, I should emphasize the word semi-watchable.

As an overt sufferer of empty nest syndrome, Beth Winter (Keaton) loathes having to watch her daughter, Ellie (Lindsay Sloane), and grandson depart from Beth's Colorado home to return to New York. Although she is escorted to the airport by her other daughter, Grace (Elisabeth Moss, in an unusual departure from her role as Peggy on Mad Men), she cannot help but get emotionally overwrought as they get back into the car together. It is at that moment that Beth's husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline), calls to check up on her. Not wanting to reveal to Joseph that she is crying, Beth tells Grace to make up an excuse for her. This is the first indication that Joseph is uncomfortable with emotion, and that Beth often stifles hers in order to maintain peace between the two of them.

On the way home from the airport, Beth lets Grace drive home, allowing her to take notice of a stray dog on the side of the freeway. She immediately insists on Grace turning around to get back to it. When they finally reach the dog, it is clear from the start that Beth shares a bond with him. Knowing that Joseph would never approve of taking an animal in, however, she tries to call both the police and animal control to take care of the situation. The response she gets from both organizations leads her to believe that she should take him to the veterinarian herself.

Once the newly named Freeway is checked out by the vet, Sam (Jay Ali), he informs Grace and Beth that a dog Freeway's age is unlikely to be adopted. This, of course, prompts Beth to bring Freeway home with her--though she still pretends like she might try to find another family to care for him. In the meantime, Sam has developed an overt interest in Grace under the vaguely false pretense of wanting to check up on Freeway.

It is at this point in the film that a somewhat abrupt segue is made to a title card that informs us that a year has passed and we are now at Grace and Sam's wedding in the Rocky Mountains, where Beth and Joseph have a vacation home. Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), the caretaker of the cabin, oversees most of the details of the wedding, instantly taking a shine to Joseph's dateless nephew, Bryan (Mark Duplass, who should really stick to being in his own movies).

Their rapport is quickly established, in spite of Bryan already having a girlfriend. His protectiveness of his mother, Penny (Dianne Wiest, in a role that seems a bit underwhelming for her acting abilities), also shines through after he meets her boyfriend, Russell (Richard Jenkins), whose harebrained scheme about opening a British pub in Omaha only serves to elevate everyone's skepticism about him.

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Once the wedding is over, the main plot of the story finally begins, which is Joseph losing Freeway while taking him for a walk in the woods. His distraction from Freeway stems from his chronic selfishness when it comes to only paying attention to his job. This merely exacerbates Beth's belief that their marriage has been flawed for far too long. On the plus side, the prolonged search for Freeway enables them to work through their issues with one another in unexpected ways (e.g. Beth having to pop Joseph's shoulder back into its socket after he dislocates it on a foiled mission to find Freeway). Ultimately though, the cheese factor of Darling Companion reaches a threshold that not even Shirley Temple would be able to handle. But then, Lawrence Kasdan movies are what they are.