Must Love Dogs
2005, PG-13, 98 min. Directed by Gary David Goldberg. Starring Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney, Stockard Channing, Ben Shenkman.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 29, 2005
Writer/director Gary David Goldberg pulls out all the "chick" clichés – from lit to flick – in this truly (dog)craptastic adaptation of the Claire Cook book about a newly divorced preschool teacher named Sarah who tries Internet dating. The film strives for single-lady, "you said it, sister" boosterism – we’re supposed to want to go rah-rah for our hapless heroine (played here by Diane Lane) as she tries, and mostly fails, to get back in the game. But it’s hard to cheer for a film that wears a slight sneer when it comes to its leading lady. Sarah’s sprawling Irish family (led by patriarch Christopher Plummer) treats her like a freak, a basket case, or a punchline. Her adventures in cyberdating produce one humiliation after another. And the neighborhood butcher looks on her with contempt because she’s only buying for one, and then with fear when she gives him a much-deserved dressing-down. The icing on the cake? When that butcher whispers "praise be" when Sarah finally lands a man – one less crazy divorced lady to deal with! And indeed Sarah does find a man. We all know her single-ness is just a brief spell – a bad rash – and that she’s going to have to try all sorts of embarrassing over-the-counter topical creams before she finds the just-right remedy. Must Love Dogs’ soothing balm is played by John Cusack, as a brokenhearted boat-builder. His part is a bore, but at least it doesn’t demand indignity. That honor’s reserved for Lane, a luminous actress who’s forced to dowdy herself down. She’s played a lonelyheart before, in Under the Tuscan Sun, but there the desperation and despair felt legitimate – and legitimately moving – here, that pain is just the necessary preamble to getting a man, to getting "fixed." They say rah-rah, I say retch: No film that requires a woman to jump in water and dogpaddle toward a man has the "sisterhood’s" best interests at heart.