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DARLING COMPANION is the latest in movieland's obsession with dogs

Dogs have always made great screen icons because they get an automatic “Awww” reaction from the vast majority of moviegoers. (Except for me, that is. I find them annoying and generally don’t even want them in the same room. But enough about me.)

Put a dog on the screen and people are suddenly rapt, cheering their every scamper, wiggle, and rollover. And so, dogs have been used in movies from the beginning of time, for all kinds of instantly magical effects. They’re heroes, as in 1943’s LASSIE COMES HOMEa classic weepie that has a dog wending her way back to the poor family that had to give her up. And three decades later, the star of BENJI should have gotten a medal of honor for thwarting a hideous kidnapping attempt.

Some dogs are even chic while they’re being clever, like Asta, the wire-haired fox terrier in the old THIN MAN movies, who was as suavely adventurous as married sleuths Nick and Nora themselves. And jump ahead to the not quite as elegant SCOOBY-DOO and the dog actually helps solve the mysteries!

Even when they’re big and raucous, screen dogs are totally lovable. (The puppy that becomes a St. Bernard in 1992’s BEETHOVEN is a doll, and even the rambunctious Labrador retriever from MARLEY & ME ended up changing lives in a good way.)

Yes, dogs have been occasionally used for terror, but that was mostly in a weird two-year period in the ‘80s that brought Sam Fuller’s controversial WHITE DOG and CUJO, based on the Stephen King novel about the rabid St. Bernard on a rampage. Must have had something to do with Reaganomics.

But then it was back to the cute stuff, and by 2000, Christopher Guest’s mockumentary BEST IN SHOW portrayed dog owners who were so neurotic about their pet canines that they’re the ones who needed the grooming and charm lessons.

And that brings us up to date with DARLING COMPANION, the Lawrence Kasdan movie about a couple (Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline) whose marriage is threatened when he’s walking the dog and lets the prize pet get away, to her absolute horror. And here’s the best thing about the movie: From there on, it’s not really about the dog, it’s about the couple. The dramatic focus is what the dog represents to Keaton’s character about her husband’s attitudes, and how they have to work to resolve that. You almost forget about the dog after a while, and that’s why DARLING COMPANION is my favorite dog movie of all time!