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Lawrence Kasdan is known for making big Hollywood pictures like "Body Heat," "The Big Chill," "Grand Canyon." His latest film, "Darling Companion," was made outside the studio system. Now, Mr. Kasdan hasn't directed a film in nine years, yet he was still able to land marquee talents, including Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Diane Wiest and Sam Shepard. Lawrence Kasdan and his wife wrote the screenplay.

Reporter Pat Dowell has more.

PAT DOWELL, BYLINE: "Darling Companion" was Meg Kasdan's idea.

MEG KASDAN: We had lost our dog in the mountains in Colorado, and after we found him, we started telling the story to friends, and people would listen intently. So I started to tell Larry that we should do this, and he said no, no, I don't want to do that kind of thing. And it took me about a year to talk him into it.

DOWELL: Meg says her husband wanted to make something with a, quote, "harder edge." Lawrence says he was worried about the autobiographical part, even though it was a friend who lost their dog. She finally got him with one sentence, he says.

LAWRENCE KASDAN: The wife loves the dog more than the husband, and then the husband loses the dog, and suddenly the movie opened up to me. And I thought it was a great opportunity to talk about all kinds of relationships and companionship.

DOWELL: In the movie the couple played by Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton seem settled into their decades-long marriage, until she rescues a dog from the highway and brings him home. The dog gradually wins the husband over, but then one day he doesn't have a firm grip on the leash while they're at their vacation home in the woods - as he tries to explain to his wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DARLING COMPANION")

DIANE KEATON: (as Beth) Where's the dog?

KEVIN KLINE: (as Joseph) I told you, he took off.

KEATON: (as Beth) When was this?

KLINE: (as Joseph) About 20 minutes ago. He chased a deer and wouldn't come back.

KEATON: (as Beth) Did you use the whistle?

KLINE: I whistled. I didn't have the whistle per se.

KEATON: (as Beth) You were on the phone, right? Hmm?

KLINE: (as Joseph) It was an emergency.

KEATON: (as Beth) Oh, God.

KLINE: (as Joseph) He's probably right outside.

DOWELL: The husband's personality was inspired by back surgery that Meg Kasdan had just before she and her husband began writing. She says she liked the surgeon...

KASDAN: But we could see that there were certain qualities in people who do big jobs like that, and I include movie directors, who have a way of thinking about the world with them at the center.

DOWELL: In the film, the surgeon is played by Kevin Kline.

KLINE: He's impatient with his wife and he's built a case against her, you know, she flies off the handle too easily, and she's not rational. And he's cast himself in the role of the rationalist. It's really an exploration of these long-term relationships and how we misperceive, misjudge, or judge accurately, but then but then we close doors instead of opening doors, perhaps.

DOWELL: "Darling Companion" is the sixth time Kevin Kline has worked with director Lawrence Kasdan.

KLINE: I love playing guys who are flawed certainly, and Larry keeps writing them for me, and I hope he continues.

DOWELL: Kline, like the other Oscar winners in the cast, Diane Keaton and Diane Wiest, were paid union scale - far less than they could command for a studio picture. But this, Lawrence Kasdan's first independent production, was made on a budget of just $5 million, and clearly, Kasdan is grateful for the stars' support.

KASDAN: Everybody jumped on board when there was so little remuneration and they had to leave their homes in New York and Los Angeles and come to Utah for six weeks and work in the wet and the cold, simply based on the fact that they liked the script.

DOWELL: A script Kasdan didn't even offer to the studios, because, he says, they're not interested in making movies like this anymore.

KASDAN: They used to make movies that were about people, and about emotions and about commitment and love and relationships and life. And those have become very hard to get made in Hollywood. It's the fact.

DOWELL: Kasdan seems to be a reluctant indie filmmaker, primarily because of the limited release such films get in theaters. "Darling Companion" is playing in New York and Los Angeles and will open in more other cities next month. Kasdan says he knows people will see it on cable, streaming, DVD.

KASDAN: But, yes, there's still the desire to have everybody in the country seeing your movie on one weekend. That's great. I've had that, and it feels good.

DOWELL: So far the reviews are lukewarm, with some critics pointedly mentioning the age of the actors, or searching their senior-citizen phrase books for terms like creaky or arthritic to describe what they don't like. Meg Kasdan has an answer for them.

KASDAN: Yes, Hollywood loves youth and I think it's tough, especially to do a movie like this about people in their 60s. But there's still a lot of us out there.

DOWELL: And they still go to movies, in theaters.

For NPR News, this is Pat Dowell.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC AND SHOW CREDITS)

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

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