The drive up the coast from Hollywood to Santa Barbara is always spiritually soothing...unless one is stuck in #%&# traffic!! But thankfully, clear driving this trip, a long exhale…and up to Danny and Bridget’s guest house on their lovely Hope Ranch estate.
And time again for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival — its 27th year!
Opening night featured a red carpet gala at the venerable Arlington Theatre -- a 2,000+-seat venue whose magical interior is done to make one feel ensconced in a quaint, moonlit Mexican pueblo, as Santa Barbara once was. Stars of opening film Darling Companion were on hand, including Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, and director Lawrence Kasdan. Julia Louis-Dreyfus caused a lot of cameras flashing; the iconic Seinfeld star was there to promote her film, Picture Paris, screening later in the week.
The program started with a wonderful Disney/Pixar animation short, La Luna, then colorful festival head Roger Durling introduced Kasdan and the key cast of Darling Companion. Kasdan talked about his new film and filmmaking. He was that fortunate combination of entertaining as well as informative.
The film turned out to be a real treat!
Beth (Diane Keaton) rescues a bedraggled lost dog from a snowy Denver freeway. Not emotionally satisfied with her distracted surgeon husband, Joseph (Kevin Kline), and an empty nest at home, Beth forms a strong bond with her new canine companion. When Joseph accidentally loses the dog after their daughter (Elisabeth Moss)'s wedding at their vacation home in the mountains, Beth, distraught and angry with Joseph, enlists the help of the few remaining guests (Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass) and their mysterious gypsy housekeeper (Ayelet Zurer) in a frantic search.
Over the course of several days of searching, the emotional and physical toll starts affecting everyone, as their mountain adventure takes them in unexpected directions -- comic, harrowing, sometimes deeply emotional and, ultimately, toward a new understanding of love.
The ensemble works well together, and the script, by Lawrence and Meg Kasden, delivers a satisfying story arc. I was both moved and entertained, as was the 2,000-seat house, which responded with laughter, joyful tears and, ultimately, thunderous applause.
As Kadan explained beforehand, Darling Companion is a low-budget work of love; the highly motivated but underpaid cast and crew nearly froze to death during production. We hope that distributer Sony Classics does well with Darling Companion, as -- in this era of big pieces of under-written, over-produced s*** -- well-done, intelligently crafted smaller films deserve to be seen.
That said, off to the opening night party!
Downtown Santa Barbara’s Pasa Nuevo provides a great venue for an outdoor party. This winter’s night also benefitted from unseasonably warm “Santa Ana” winds. Stella Artois beer and (nearby harvested) Bridlewood wines kept things flowing, as the crowd danced away to DJs and live bands. And ate. And ate...as a dozen-plus local food purveyors graciously fed everybody.
Some of my favorite dishes were Petros Restaurant's scrumptious “spanakopita” -- a Greek spinach and feta pastry -- tasty tuna tartare from the Enterprise Fish Company, and a perfectly mouth-watering, cheese-dripping lasagna by Arnoldi’s Café. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I went back for seconds (okay, okay…diet be damned, I actually went back for thirds, so shoot me).
Unfortunately, Hollywood still had me by the balls and pulled me back to L.A. promptly the next morning, causing me to miss some cool film-maker panels and hot new indie movies that day.
I must also say that, once back in Hollywood, I noticed again how much friendlier the folks in Santa Barbara are -- they don’t even butt in line for food and drinks like people often do at glitzy Hollywood events.
Buzzine plans further coverage of the 27th Santa Barbara International Film Festival. We highly recommend this important festival. We also highly recommend visiting Santa Barbara!
The 27th Santa Barbara International Film Fesitval runs from January 25th to February 5, 2012.