© 2005 Ray Wong
Stars: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney, Stockard Channing, Ali Hillis, Brad William Henke
Director: Gary David Goldberg
Writer: Gary David Goldberg (based on novel by Claire Cook)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some language
Running time: 98 minutes
Script – 4
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total Score – 6.2 out of 10
Meet Sarah (Lane), DWF, attractive, self-deprecating, self-aware, neurotic, pre-school teacher, in a romantic slump. Her entire family, including married sisters Carol (Perkins) and Christine (Hillis), is determined to play matchmakers. When Sarah is resistant to the idea of dating again, Carol goes ahead and puts up an online dating profile for her. “Must Love Dogs” is only a gimmick, for Sarah doesn’t even own a dog. The dating game proves to be more hassle than it’s worth for Sarah, but she goes along with it.
Meet Jake (Cusack), DWM, attractive, self-deprecating, self-aware, neurotic, rowboat builder, in a romantic slump. His friend Charlie urges him to go out and date, and have lots of sex. But Jake wants to fall madly, passionately in love, much like the leads in his most favorite movie, Dr. Zhivago. So when Charlie shows him a profile of a woman named Sarah, Jake decides to take a chance. He doesn’t have a dog either.
Their first meeting is a semi-disaster, but Sarah and Jake can’t help but feel attracted to each other. Meanwhile, Sarah is smitten with Bill (Mulroney), the dashing single father of one of her students. As her courtship with Jakes goes on and off, Sarah is seduced into having a fling with Bill, only to find out her heart really belongs to Jake…
Lane again plays a distressed, neurotic, unfulfilled woman looking for love at all the wrong places, and spends her life hiding from life itself. She’s basically playing the same character in UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, but she does it so well. Even when she’s a mess, she’s charming and effervescent, exuding a natural, beautiful aura that we’ve come to love since her career rejuvenated with A PERFECT STORM. Cusack (RUNAWAY JURY) also plays the same love-sick puppy-dog sensitive guy. What kind of men would watch DR. ZHIVAGO over and over again? But Cusack is very good at that, and his expressive eyes are disarming. Surprisingly, Lane and Cusack have great chemistry together. I admit I was skeptical at first – I always thought Lane was simply gorgeous and Cusack had always been just a cad. But their onscreen relationship proves me wrong – I do believe they belong together.
Perkins (FIERCE PEOPLE) was once a leading lady, but now she is comfortable playing the meddling sister roles, and she excels in it. Plummer (ALEXANDER) has a relatively small but pivotal role as the patriarch who, after losing the love of his life, is now playing the field. His chemistry with Lane is affecting. Channing (LE DIVORCE) plays Plummer’s ditzy, husband-hungry white trash girlfriend with a fun spirit. Her character, however, is too much of a caricature. Mulroney (THE WEDDING DATE) plays the guy who is “too good to be true” very well, if predictable.
Predictable. That’s the thing – MUST LOVE DOGS is predictable. Right from the start, the structure and format tell us exactly what we need to know: Sarah and Jake are going to get together; Jake is going to break Sarah’s heart; and it’s going to be a long, drawn-out date. There are some very genuine, touching moments, and some chuckles, but over all, it’s a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy cut from a familiar mold. Writer-director Goldberg, mostly known for his works in TV, can’t seem to rise above novelist Cook’s clichéd story, down the cute gay best friends.
As director, Goldberg also structures the film like he would a cute TV movie. Everything is quaint and cute and well rehearsed. The pretty little town, the beautiful landscapes… I didn’t even know at first it was set in Los Angeles (SPOILER: how hard is it to find condoms in Los Angeles?) The fact is, the story and the direction are too on the nose. You know what is going to happen and it does. The situations seem forced. Granted, it’s a comedy and sometimes comedies do follow certain conventions and structures. Still, I expect more. I like romantic comedies, but if filmmakers keep making us feel like “if you see one, you see them all,” then romantic comedies might die a slow but imminent death. And that would be a dog.