Let's start with delightful! This was the first adjective that popped into my head as the movie started. We already know it's a tug at your heart animal lovers' movie with a stellar cast, so we're primed as puppies waiting for a treat! It sort of chugs along with typical main characters, Beth (Diane Keaton) and Joseph Winter (Kevin Kline) start out as just vanilla, typical, so mid-life crisis in your face. Then it begins to get interesting as the other characters breathe life into the more atypical roles and do so with astonishing creativity and honesty, thanks to the writing skills of Meg and Lawrence Kasdan.
Beth is an emotional empty nester whose "surgeon" husband is a workaholic ass; to his credit he really cares about his patients but just can't find enough time for his family. They have two daughters; one daughter has already had a baby but lives a plane ride away, so they're new, long-distance grandparents as well. As Beth and daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) drop off her daughter and grandchild at the airport Beth has a meltdown in the car because she's so heartbroken and just then a dog on the side of the road catches her attention. She almost causes a pile up on the freeway, they stop to help and wind up taking the dog to a veterinarian, a good looking young man, Sam (Jay Ali) that takes an interest not only in this feisty dog but also in Beth's unmarried daughter Grace. They discover that a dog of his age will probably not find a home and Beth adopts him, aptly naming him Freeway. Freeway fills the void in her life, which really isn't a void but life progressing in its general way. Things change; you can't always be vibrant, young and have children to care for. Freeway becomes a big part of her life and an outlet for her nurturing soul. I personally would have liked to see more bonding with Freeway, though it is implied.
A year passes, the extended family gathers for the wedding of Sam and Grace which is held up in the vacation cabin of Beth and Joseph somewhere around Park City and Sundance (absolutely gorgeous cinematography). The wedding goes off without a hitch, perfect. As they're gearing up to go home in the days that follow, Joseph is distractedly walking the dog in the woods which are unfamiliar to Freeway. He's on his cellphone with a patient, and Freeway takes off after a deer. Beth has trained Freeway to always come back when she blows her whistle and needless to say Sam left the whistle hanging in the foyer.
They start a mad search, like an amber alert and Beth blames Joseph. He says "it's a dog"; she says "love is love". It becomes symbolic of their underlying differences, the distancing in their relationship over the years. They still love each other but have lost their way, much like Freeway. They extend their stay to search for Freeway and we begin to see the colorful relationships of the remaining family play out, Joseph's sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins) who seems like an opportunistic n'er do well (but really he's just an optimistic really good guy!); Penny's son Bryan (Mark Duplass) who came to the wedding without his model wife (it's implied that she may be the wrong choice of a wife for him) and the beautiful, mysterious house manager Carmen (Ayelet Zurer), who never mentioned that she "knows" things (in a "gypsy" sense!). They search for days on the advice of Carmen who sends them all on a wild goose (dog) chase. It's not clear if she really is psychic, but she gives them hope and provides the faith that inevitably leads them back to themselves and back in "alignment," as she calls it.
Some wonderful extras in this movie -- the Sheriff (Sam Shepard) just unexpectedly pops into the movie, cooler than the Marlboro Man! Diane Wiest, Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline –- all at the top of their game. But for me, the most surprising, lovable character was Richard Jenkins, who is finally getting his due as the magnificent actor he is.
The location is spectacular, a character unto itself. Freeway, the dog, is played by two wonderful actors! This movie will bring you back to the basics -- love is love -- and what a wonderful reminder that is!