Without question, writer-director Lawrence Kasdan has an incredible handle on telling deeply personal stories, from his Oscar-nominated classic "The Big Chill" in 1983 to another acclaimed ensemble drama in 1991's "Grand Canyon."

The latter film, which Kasdan wrote with his wife, Meg Kasdan, was a screenplay that earned the duo an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Now, 21 years later, the husband-and-wife team have penned another script that's as personal as ever with the new dramedy "Darling Companion."

The difference is this time, though, is that they've made the film independent of any studio.

"It wasn't possible that a studio would make it, so we never tried bringing the project to a major studio. We raised the money independently," Lawrence Kasdan told me in a recent visit with Meg Kasdan. "It would have been maybe made years ago after I made 'The Big Chill' and those kind of movies, but nowadays, Hollywood doesn't make that kind of movie, so you have to go the independent route."

The Kasdans said that the key to making the movie on a small budget was to find people who were willing to work for very little money and fast. And, luckily for them, they have some very famous friends by the names of Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton, who were willing to do just that.

Expanding into more theaters across the U.S. on Friday, "Darling Companion" is a distinct tale about a longtime married couple, Beth and Joseph (Keaton and Kline), who find themselves at odds when Joseph loses Beth's dearest friend, a dog she named Freeway (a name she gave to the canine after she found him hurt and abandoned by a roadway).

Embarking on a search in the wilds of Colorado to find Freeway, Beth and Joseph are joined by Joseph's sister, Penny (Dianne Wiest), her new idea-man boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins) and Penny's grown son, Bryan (Mark Duplass). Also joining the hunt is Beth's housekeeper, Carmen (Ayelet Zuhrer) -- a woman of Gypsy heritage who claims to have psychic abilities and receives "signs" of Freeway's whereabouts.

Meg Kasdan said the basic story of "Darling Companion" was inspired by true events: The couple lost -- and fortunately, found -- their dog in Colorado.

"Our dog was lost in the woods of Colorado for three weeks. We had been married for 40 years, and we're part of the Baby Boomer generation, so all of these things informed what the movie was about," Meg Kasdan said.

The Kasdans know that dog lovers will naturally gravitate toward "Darling Companion," and that's completely fine with them. The bonus is, the film is about much more than a party searching for their four-legged friend.

"The story really isn't about the lost dog, but where the lost dog leads all the people who join this hunt for the lost dog," Lawrence Kasdan said. "It's really about all kinds of companionship. Dogs can be your best companions at times, but so can be your wife, if you're lucky. Plus, it could be the people in the brand-new relationships that grow in the movie. It's about who you can trust and commit your life to."

"That's right," Meg Kasdan added. "It's about who you walk down the road with."

Of course, anybody familiar with Lawrence Kasdan's work knows he's adored in both the "Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars" movie realms, as the screenwriter of such classics as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," as well as the "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi."

So, when Wiest utters the line, "Everybody has a dark side," in "Darling Companion," it can't help but make you wonder if Lawrence Kasdan was dropping in an ode to Darth Vader on purpose.

"There's no question that I did," he said with a laugh. "I have an enormous affection for those movies. All of them are important to me -- 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' 'Empire,' and 'Jedi.' And everywhere I go in the world, people come up to me and talk about those movies. That makes them a treasure for me. So, in 'Darling Companion,' that's a little nod to my life."