Diane Lane as Sarah
John Cusack as Jake
Elizabeth Perkins as Carol
Christopher Plummer as Bill
Dermot Mulroney as Bob
Stockard Channing as Dolly
Ali Hillis as Christine
Brad William Henke as Leo
Julie Gonzalo as June
Glenn Howerton as Michael
Ben Shenkman as Charlie
Jordana Spiro as Sherry
Kirk Trutner as Deli Guy
Victor Webster as Eric
Michael Spound as Marc
A good cast and great chemistry between Lane and Cusack helps Must Love Dogs to transcend the formulaic nature of the romantic comedy genre.
Kindergarten teacher Sarah (Diane Lane) tries to get back on the horse and start dating again after a messy divorce. Trying to help, her sisters place an ad on an online dating service, but she starts seeing the father of a student (Dermot Mulroney) just as she gets a response to her ad from a suave divorced boat builder (John Cusack). And her meddlesome family just won’t stop butting into either relationship.
Pity the poor romantic comedy, a genre that has become so formulaic that you can pick two stars’ names out of hat, grab one of the many generic plots that keeps them apart just long enough to keep things interesting, and voila, you have yourself a movie. In this sense, Must Love Dogs really is no different, but it does do its best to make sure that all the parts of the romantic comedy equation are well in place.
Dragged to see this by a female friend with a long-time boyfriend which guaranteed that I wouldn’t be getting to first base–even on a walk–I fully expected this to be a painful experience. While it’s not a movie you can discuss over tea and crumpets after a game of croquet, it’s an often amusing and enjoyable look at modern dating and relationships, which was worth more than a few laughs, both large and small.
If the premise of a divorced woman torn between two men as she tries to find new love sounds like something right out of a romance novel, then you’d be right, since it’s based on the 2002 book of the same name by Claire Cook. Of course, the romcom stereotypes are in full effect, especially in the feminine viewpoint of men either as sex objects or complete bastards, but it does offer some solid comedy bits as Lane tries to deal with one bad date after another.
Realism is rarely a factor in this make-believe reality where every character is constantly cracking jokes–if only real life were this funny all the time–creating an environment somewhere between the entire season of an NBC sitcom mixed with every Woody Allen romantic comedy. Of course, this is easily explained by director/screenwriter Gary David Goldberg’s background as a television writer for shows like “The Bob Newhart Show,” which may be why his characters and the humor try to be more universal to the point of cliche, rather than alternative or subversive.
The only reason it kind of works is because both Lane and Cusack do their best to make their characters seem real in this fake world. Having become Hollywood’s most popular romantic lead by playing the perfect “everyman” in movies like say anything and Serendipity, Cusack can pretty much phone this type of role in. Barring the absence of a scene where he’s standing in the rain–probably a deal breaker in any film for which he’s approached–he’s just as charming and likable as ever, though he’s certainly starting to look his age.
On the other hand, Lane looks better than ever, and she does a great job making something out of nothing with her generic romcom divorcee. Few other actresses could pull off some of the lame lines and silly situations yet still make you care about them. The chemistry between the two leads is so strong, it’s a shame that they don’t share more screen time together. Their scenes are by far the most enjoyable ones, particularly one moment where they race around town trying to find an open pharmacy so they can consummate their lustful thoughts. This time, Cusack has a bit of competition in the form of Dermot Mulroney, who looking at the tale of the tape, has been in quite a few credible romantic comedies from My Best Friend’s Wedding to The Wedding Date himself. He just seems wooden and stiff compared to Cusack’s laid-back delivery.
Fortunately, there’s some great talent in the supporting cast to plumb a few extra laughs. Christopher Plummer gives a rare comic turn as Sarah’s septuagenarian playboy father with his womanizing ways leading to a fun recurring joke when Sarah accidentally answers his personal ad. There are also some nice moments from Stockard Channing as his girlfriend, who has to deal with the fact that he is often seeing other women. Unfortunately, Goldberg’s attempt to give each of the supporting characters their own life and story arc tends to make the movie a bit unfocused, as it drifts away from Sarah’s dilemma, but it also distributes the scene-stealing laughs liberally amongst the cast. Fans of Sideways may even be thrilled to see “Miles’ Mom” Marylouise Burke in a small part.
When it finally comes down to Sarah’s decision between the two guys, both perfect and imperfect in their own way, the audience also has to decide which one they’d rather see her with. The answer is pretty obvious, but you do have to wonder if somewhere out there is an alternative ending where she goes with the other one.
The Bottom Line:
Though the jokes are obvious and predictable, Must Love Dogs is generally sweet and romantic fun that should help avoid some of the awkward dating moments depicted in it.