Diane Keaton has been a movie star for 40 years. That’s a mighty long time. She has played major roles in movies spanning from The Godfather (1972), in which she portrayed the appropriately anxious young wife of Michael Corleone, to Darling Companion, a domestic comedy that opens this Friday.
There have been plenty of major hits along the way (Reds, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride and The First Wives Club) and some stinkers (I Will… I Will… For Now, The Little Drummer Girl and Town & Country). And there have been awards. The now 66-year-old actress took home the Oscar for best actress for her iconic portrayal of iconic semi-flibbertigibbet Annie Hall in the 1977 movie of the same name, and has been nominated three other times, most recently for Something’s Gotta Give (2003).
While Keaton has delivered some fine dramatic performances, particularly in Reds (1981) and the sadly overlooked Shoot the Moon (1982), it is in comedies that she has always shone brightest. Who doesn’t fondly remember nearly every one of the eight films, including the semi-autobiographical Annie Hall, she made for writer-director-actor Woody Allen (who was also once briefly her beau)? It wasn’t just in Allen’s film that she earned laughs. Consider her high-powered businesswoman turned rural single mom in Baby Boom (1987) or, more recently, her dead-on satirical turn as a lightweight morning news anchor in Morning Glory (2010).
Her new film, Darling Companion, is a comedy from writer-director Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill). It’s literally a shaggy dog story, a domestic comedy about a couple (Keaton and Kevin Kline) whose longtime marriage is threatened when their pet dog goes missing. Keaton plays Beth, who has adopted the stray pooch over the objections of Joseph (Kline), her self-important surgeon husband. When, after their adult daughter’s wedding, Joseph takes the dog for a walk at their mountainside weekend house and the critter runs off, Beth blames her husband. In between extended bouts of searching for the pet, the two allow long-hidden resentments and lingering grudges to come out.
The title, Darling Companion, obviously refers not just to the dog but also to long-term spouses. An amusing if minor confection, the film fails to develop fully several of its characters or deliver on all of its themes. But it does do a good job of affectionately portraying a decades-long marriage, one in which the sheer length of the relationship offers boredom and cozy comfort in equal measure.
Watching Keaton — one of the few actresses her age in Hollywood who manifestly hasn’t gone under a cosmetic surgeon’s knife — a viewer is reminded again that while movie stars portray a vast array of roles over the course of a career, their most successful ones tend to offer variations on a single template. Keaton has always been at her most appealing when she’s playing smart women who are just a little overwhelmed and have a tendency to fluster or dither easily even as they dig in their heels. It’s who she was in Annie Hall, Baby Boom and Something’s Gotta Give.
Viewers old enough to have watched the arc of her career will not just be seeing Keaton as Beth in Darling Companion. They’ll be seeing her in all the roles she played before, comparing and contrasting, enjoying her in this part but also imbuing her current character with traces from the ghosts of her movies past.
And that, after all, is one of the pleasures of watching a performer over the years and even decades. Time transforms all of us, but the essence remains the same.
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