Lawrence Kasdan has done something he never dreamed of: He’s gone indie and he doesn’t think he’s going back. The four-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter of such blockbusters as The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, The Bodyguard and Raiders Of The Lost Ark and writer-director of such acclaimed films as Body Heat, The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, Silverado and Grand Canyon among others is back with Darling Companion. It’s his first new film in nine years (since 2003’s ill-fated Dreamcatcher) and the first time in a 30-plus-year career that he has worked without a net. A studio-bred filmmaker from the beginning, Kasdan says no studio would go near his latest project, co-written with wife of 40 years Meg Kasdan, and he totally gets it. That’s why at age 62 he decided he had to go it alone because Companion, aimed at older audiences the same age as its director, has got to be a true gem (considering the multi-Oscared cast) and rich, if rare, entertainment for that largely forgotten sector of the audience the industry routinely dismisses — and who can’t find anything to see starring people their own age. This kind of smart (by design), sophisticated adult comedy rarely comes along these days unless it’s got Woody Allen’s name on it, and even those are mostly populated with younger actors.
“I have a feeling the (independent world) is where I’ll be working if I continue to work because Hollywood obviously has turned their back on this kind of movie and maybe you’ll understand why when the movie’s released (it opens today in NY and LA in just four runs) if no one shows up. This is a movie where people in their 60s are the centerpiece of the movie, and it just isn’t gonna happen at a Hollywood studio now. It’s never gonna happen,” Kasdan said of the film with a superb ensemble cast of 60-plus-aged actors Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest and Sam Shepard, along with a couple of younger thesps Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass thrown in for a few scenes. It is loosely based on an incident where the Kasdans’ dog disappeared while they were vacationing and suddenly turned up three weeks later. The script takes that premise and turns it into a film about the pitfalls of long term relationships , marriage and finding new spark in life even if you’re well past AARP eligibility age and spend a lot of time talking about aches and pains.
“The concerns that are in the movie about mortality, and children going off, and the fraying of a long relationship, those are things you wouldn’t get in the door of a studio conference room. And you can tell when you go to look for a movie to see on a Friday night, you know what your choices are and Hollywood studios have said ‘we’re not interested in this kind of movie’. So that leaves independent film and that’s fine. It just means you have to work really fast and you have to find people who are willing to work for very little money, and we were very fortunate with this great cast. It makes you feel good when great actors and craftsmen and crew show up for essentially minimums because they like the material,” he says.
But Kasdan, who hasn’t had a major hit in a long while but clearly had the midas touch for a strong 15 year run between 1980 and 1995 or so, seems to be interested now in things the mainstream Hollywood in which he has always worked is definitely not. He admits he didn’t even try to take this to one of the majors. “We never took it to a studio. When we finished the script and looked at it we knew. There hadn’t been a studio movie like for ten years. We didn’t want to have the kind of jokes that pass for jokes in Hollywood right now. We weren’t gonna make fun of people. We didn’t think if you were 60, you were old. I do think Hollywood thinks that way. You tend to see people past the age of 50 caricatured as being old. We don’t feel that way. We think this is as vibrant a part of your life as any other,” he says adding that if no one shows up for this he and Meg won’t be shocked. “If it strikes some chord that would be delightful and we’d say ‘well someone else is interested in colonoscopies and psa’s’.”
Kasdan says it is unintentional but the film does seem to be a part of a trilogy that began in 1983 with The Big Chill (a Best Picture nominee) and continued in 1991 with Grand Canyon (for which he and Meg shared an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination) to 2012 and Darling Companion with ads that use the selling point it is from the director of those two other films even though they came out 30 and 20 years ago respectively. “I think there’s no question all three of those movies caught us at a certain time. We were exactly that age in our 30’s when we made The Big Chill. And in our 40’s when we made Grand Canyon. And we are at the unmentionable age right now where these people are. I think it wasn’t what we wanted to do but you look around, see what’s happening to your friends and people you know and changes you’re going through. We’ve been married 40 years and it’s possible to take people for granted after a while. That’s what happened in the movie to those characters. They love each other but it’s just a long haul,” he says though it doesn’t appear the Kasdans have the same problems . They are true collaborators personally and professionally. In fact Meg was the Music Supervisor for the iconic soundtrack of Big Chill which sold 7 million copies, and he points out their two scripts were organic since he says everything has written has always gone through the filter of his wife anyway.
Sony Pictures Classics is releasing and first unveiled it as the opening night film at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Kasdan said he thinks they are the perfect boutique operation to handle it as it opens slowly and expands on a weekly basis into more markets. “We’ve never done that before. On those big studio movies – some of mine have worked and some haven’t – on Friday afternoon they give you a call and say either ‘congratulations’ or they say ‘it’s all over, you just wasted two years’. So we are hoping this is a slightly different experience. If we don’t do well the first weekend, maybe we do better second weekend. We’ll spread across the country until we find suckers willing to go,” he laughed. “Sony Classics does it on a shoestring and that’s how they are successful. Michael Barker and Tom Bernard are very respectful of the filmmaker and we believe they are gonna do their best for this movie.”
If younger audiences stay away, Kasdan can take heart there is at least one important place it should play well, and where the film’s demo hits the bullseye: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. A recent study says the median age of members is 62. Bingo! It shows there tomorrow night in the prime time Saturday night slot.