Must Love Dogs Tries To Defy Summer Fluff

by Marion M. Merritt on July 29, 2005

in Uncategorized

Must Love Dogs Tries to Defy Summer Fluff but it falls short, despite a stellar cast of seasoned, comic actors.
Wasn’t it only three years ago that Oscar nominated , Diane Lane, was in her full, sensuous glory, creating steamy, screen heat with hunky Olivier Martinez and driving a tame, detached Richard Gere to murder, in order to keep her, in “Unfaithful?” Still graced with the that rare kind of natural beauty that would turn both men and women’s heads, as she entered any room, we now have to watch as Diane Lane is cast as a woman who can’t get a date, on her own, in an easy to digest, romantic comedy, Must Love Dogs. The hard part is that we have to believe in her struggles to find a date, then love, in order for this film to work at all.

It has been eight months since pre-school teacher, Sarah’s (Diane Lane) divorce. Her large, close-knit, Irish-Catholic family is determined to help her get out of her pajamas and into someone else’s. We first meet this interfering clan, crowded in Sarah’s kitchen, all bearing photos of their idea of a perfect man for her. It doesn’t matter if he is married, divorced, gay, an anonymous model from a magazine, the main criteria is that they are male and a potential date and will get Sarah back into the living and loving segment of society.
Sarah’s glib sister, Carol (Elizabeth Perkins, who throws out some funny, pointed lines, a la Eve Arden at her gal pal best) decides to create an online profile and set Sarah up on potential dates, all without her prior knowledge. With too little prodding, Sarah dives into her love assignment, setting up a sometimes funny montage of stereotypical, bad first dates. We get a look of what is out there for single women over forty : someone who is too close for comfort, a jerk who tells her to her radiant face that she is too old, he likes them around 18 (so why did he answer her ad), a depressed crybaby and one who is looking for a some mild, kinky action.
At the same time we watch Sarah’s searches unfold, we are introduced to freshly divorced, Jake (John Cusack), a sensitive renaissance man, who designs and builds wood rowing skulls, the old world way. He is also reluctant to get back into the dating world and would rather watch Doctor Zhivago for the millionth time.
Sarah’s sister, Carol, has not given up, despite never having to go on any of the bad dates and places a new ad and a new criteria. The potential suitor must love dogs. This is the ad that catches a non dog owning Jake’s eye. Oh, Sarah doesn’t own a dog either, so both “rent” a pooch for the date. Of course, this first meeting has to go badly because neither are honest and Carol has added some extra breast tissue to Sarah that just isn’t there and Jake calls her on her breast reduction. It is a combination of first date nerves, fear of acknowledging chemistry and confronting each other’s dishonesty that convinces Sarah to cut it short and flee.
Yes, these two are meant to be together, but, before this can happen, we are must go through a land mind of misunderstandings, road blocks, missed meetings and a side sexual attraction between Sarah and one of her student’s separated father, a pseudo-quasi-renaissance man, Bobby (Dermot Mulroney).
Meanwhile, Sarah’s suave, handsome, refined, widowed father, Bill (Christopher Plummer) is involved in his own online dating entanglements. Unlike his gun shy daughter, Bill wants to date as many women as possible. One of the three of his steady dates is the flamboyant, trailer park-living, Dolly (Stockard Channing in the film’s most honest character). We discover that there is a huge heart underneath all the make up and turquoise jewelry .
By coincidence, the handsome Bobby and his cute son, also live in the same trailer park as Dolly, so he and Sarah can conveniently run into each other outside the preschool and explore their mutual heat for each other.
Even though Sarah has found two interesting possibilities in both Jake and Billy, she continues her online search, this time with confidence and on her own, setting up another round of not so amusing bad-date montages.
Sarah is constantly being bombarded with advice and interference from her well-meaning family, but, luckily she has the now standard, gay best friend and co-worker, Leo (Brad William Henke) who represents the voice of reason.
Will Sarah chose the sensitive Jake or the dangerously handsome Bobby? Will her family leave her alone long enough for her to choose? Will we even care?

Yes, we will care who Sarah chooses, although it will not come as any big surprise, because despite having a hard time believing the stunning, natural beauty, Diane Lane, even in her goofy portrayal as Sarah, can’t find a date, we want her to heal and find love. We are attracted to her character and can overlook the film’s clichés and flaws and root for love.
There are more laughs in Must Love Dogs than I expected. As directed by veteran television writer, producer and director Gary David Goldberg, like his successful sister (Family Ties and Spin City) he knows how to execute the sitcom-like setups followed by laughs at familiar situations.
Christopher Plummer could read the back of a cereal box and still seem cultured and brilliant. Both he and Stockard Channing’s character were underused. Dolly, in her non-faced lifted, wrinkled glory, lit up the screen with her energy. Her time away from the screen was missed. Plummer does get to play a bit of a rogue, a role you could tell he enjoyed.
Contrived, accidental meetings, almost meetings and missed meetings between Sarah, Jake and Bobby were lazily written by screenwriter, Goldberg, just to move the story along. In the excellent drama, Red, directed by the late Krystof Kieslowski, the situational, emotional sets up are much the same as Must Love Dogs, but Kieslowski is patient in his story telling, drawing the audience into his character’s lives and never letting them connect until the time is right. Red, of course, is not a romantic comedy, but, I wouldn’t have mind if Goldberg would have borrowed some of Kieslowski’s philosophies on our one true love being out there and we will eventually meet. Bill, Sarah’s father keeps repeating this mantra to her, but the emotionality of her search is missing. Goldberg decides to follow the standard formula of boy meet girl, misunderstanding interrupt, boy loses girl…
Obvious, product placement is now a part of most film’s budgets and is here to stay. Must Love Dogs uses one real online dating service and repeats its name enough times that I am sure they will receive a profitable return on their investment. But, Goldberg goes over the top when he allows the camera to remain focused on the world’s largest software company’s logo for far too long.
We are never told what city the film takes place in, but, I would never want to live in a town where a woman like Sarah can not catch a date and where when she is finally ready for action with Jake, they can not find a 24 hour mini mart for condoms. This scene was suppose to be funny, but, it was plain unrealistic watching them drive around town in their frantic search.
Must Love Dogs does have some adorable dogs, especially Mother Teresa, a big loveable Newfoundland, whose breed is known for water rescue, but who is afraid of the water.
The term “Chick Flick” has all but replaced Romantic/Comedy as a genre of film. When we walk into the theater, we know what to expect: light comedy and a feel good, happy resolution at the end of the film so that the couples who came to watch, will be in a mood to carry on the spirit of the romance after the film is over. Must Love Dogs does fit that romantic criteria, but hurry home because the film and it’s romantic mood will disappear and be forgotten, quickly.
Hint: Stay for the ending credit.
Must Love Dogs
Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Gary David Goldberg
Rated PG 13 for Sexual Content
Starring: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermont Mulroney, Stockard Channing, Brad William Henke

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