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Whatever Happened to Lawrence Kasdan?

August 28, 2012

Thirty years ago, Lawrence Kasdan looked like he was going to be the next Steven Spielberg. He cowrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, then made an auspicious directorial debut with Body Heat, an uncredited remake of Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. His career really heated up with The Big Chill, earning his first Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, even though it was derivative of John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven. When he jumped genres again, directing the hugely entertaining Western Silverado, it seemed like he’d become a proficient Hollywood craftsman, with no voice or identifiable style of his own but plenty of visual and verbal flair.

Soon, it was back to Big Chilly tales of contemporary adults in crisis—The Accidental Tourist and Grand Canyon, which snagged two more Academy Award nominations. But just when he seemed to be finding his footing as a filmmaker, he rode West again, disastrously, reteaming with Silverado‘s Kevin Costner for the ponderous Wyatt Earp. Although the blockbuster success of The Bodyguard—Kasdan’s first script, belatedly misdirected by Mick Jackson—should’ve ensured that Hollywood would always love him, his cinematic output soon slowed to a crawl: It was four years between the not-so-magnifique rom-com French Kiss and the faux-shrink farce Mumford, and another four before his nightmarish adaptatation of Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher. This year, after nearly a decade away, Kasdan returned with Darling Companion, now quietly coming out on DVD after a limited theatrical release. And, I’m sorry to say, this meandering dramedy about an aging married couple (Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton) whose canine substitute-child runs away, is a real dog.

Despite its reliable leads (this is Kline’s sixth film with Kasdan) and a mostly stellar supporting cast—including two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, Oscar nominees Sam Shepard and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss—Darling Companion seems infected by the dreary spirit of mumblecore mope Mark Duplass, who costars as Kline’s spinal-surgery colleague. It’s commendable that Kasdan, who cowrote the script with his wife Meg, dared to make a movie about mature people with no superpowers, but he’s barking up the wrong tree.

There’s nothing particularly funny or dramatic about Darling Companion. Like James L. Brooks, whose ensemble comedies have grown increasingly irrelevant over the years, Kasdan’s finding time is not on his side. And that’s gotta be a really big chill.

Do you think Lawrence Kasdan’s an accidental auteurist, or do you still love him to death? Post a comment!

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