The recent announcement that Lawrence Kasdan‘s Darling Companion will open the 2012 Santa Barbara Film Festival stirred a “hmmm” reaction. 20 years ago a Lawrence Kasdan relationship drama starring Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest and Sam Shepard would have been released during award season, and Kasdan’s fans (i.e., 30-and-older quality seekers) would have been wetting their lips. It would have been at least a moderately big deal.

But Kasdan’s last truly tasty film, Mumford, came out 12 years ago. I will never stop respecting or believing in his craft and vision, but over the last decade he’s generally been regarded by the media mob as M.I.A. or “on hold” or past it. So right off the top I was wondering if this is a potential rebound or a place-holder or what. Because my suspicions at this point in time, no offense, are skeptical.

I don’t mean to speak dismissively of one of the strongest and most distinctive director-screenwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, Grand Canyon, Wyatt Earp, Mumford — that’s a hell of a 20-year run. For a while there Kasdan was looking like an American Jean Renoir. But writer-directors have only so much psychic essence, and the prevailing view is that after they’ve shot their wad (as most wads are lamentably finite), that’s it.

But let’s presume otherwise. Tomorrow is another day. Ya gotta believe.

The nominal focus of Darling Companion (Sony Classics) is obsessive dog love on the part of a middle-aged woman (Keaton’s character). Which means, I gather, that the actual focus is the unfulfilling nature of many relationships today among older, well-to-do GenXers and boomers.

Keaton, married to Kevin Kline in the film, saves a stray dog on the side of a freeway in Denver “and then the husband loses the dog,” etc. SBIFF executive director Roger Durling called it “a fantastic film to kick off the festival.” But how so exactly? Because the plot thumbnail suggests something quirky, eccentric and perhaps minor.

A Sony Classics press release called Darling Companion “comic, harrowing and sometimes deeply emotional.” It will screen at Santa Barbara’s Arlington theatre on Thursday, January 26.