John Cusack and Diane Lane in Must Love Dogs (2005)


(director/writer: Gary David Goldberg; screenwriter: novel by Claire Cook; cinematographer: John Bailey; editors: Roger Bondelli/Eric A. Sears; music: Craig Armstrong; cast: Diane Lane (Sarah Nolan), John Cusack (Jake Anderson), Dermot Mulroney (Bob Connor), Elizabeth Perkins (Carol), Stockard Channing (Dolly), Christopher Plummer (Bill), Julie Gonzalo( June), Jordana Spiro (Sherry), Brad William Henke (Leo), Ali Hillis (Christine), Glenn Howerton (Michael), Ben Shenkman (Charlie), Kirk Trutner (Deli Guy), Victor Webster (Eric); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gary David Goldberg/Suzanne Todd/Jennifer Todd; Warner Brothers; 2005)

“Tepid sitcom romantic-comedy that’s not a bow-wow but never gets out of the doghouse.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is derived from a personal ad placed to an Internet dating service website. The canine reference is just one of too many cutesy touches offered up in this tepid sitcom romantic-comedy that’s not a bow-wow but never gets out of the doghouse. This date flick is burdened with a cliché-ridden formulaic setup it never is able to overcome despite a few intelligent comments thrown in almost as afterthoughts. There’s not one thing to get excited about–even the star Diane Lane is too bland and her yuppie dating problem is not that believable for us to get concerned about this still beautiful woman’s welfare. Must Love Dogs adheres to the conventions of the genre, so we have the cutesy meeting, the flowery courtship followed by the obligatory misunderstanding, the generous gay co-worker (Brad William Henke) who offers advice to the lovelorn heroine, and the sweet ending when true Hollywood love is found just like it has in thousands of pics before. It’s directed in a safe, genial and uninteresting manner, with no lingering bitter aftereffects, by Gary David Goldberg (“Dad”), known more for his television sitcoms (“Family Ties”); it’s based on the best-selling novel by Claire Cook.

Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane) is a fortysomething preschool teacher who was divorced from her fireman hubby some eight months ago, who dumped her for a much younger woman, and she is still so distraught that she hasn’t started dating again. This upsets her large Boston Irish clan, who rally around her in support. The charge to get her a new hubby and some “boob shirts” is led by pushy older sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) and is encouraged by her 71-year-old widowed father Bill Nolan (Christopher Plummer), who is currently juggling a few women around–including the much married eccentric Dolly (Stockard Channing). Carol, without Sarah’s knowledge, posts her photo and profile on an Internet dating site, and there are a string of loser dates we have to sit through. Faced with the same problem is the sensitive, intense and philosopher-like wooden ship builder Jake Anderson (John Cusack), who also recently got divorced as his wife dumped him. We know he’s a sincere romantic because he loves the film “Doctor Zhivago,” which he has seen many times, and when his lawyer roommate Charlie (Ben Shenkman) tries to fix him up with a sexy girl from his office (Jordana Spiro) who’s an easy lay–he turns it down. Charlie surprises his friend by answering Sarah’s Internet date ad and the two divorcees meet on the cute in the park, each bringing along another’s dog. But Jake freaks her out by coming on in a clever but too neurotic manner. Meanwhile, Sarah is attracted to the father of one of her student’s, Bob Connor (Dermot Mulroney), who has recently separated. He’s handsome, soft-spoken, charming, finishing up his Ph.D. and has a rep as an incorrigible ladies man. The only obstacle in the way of this seemingly perfect romance is that she’s his son’s teacher (which doesn’t seem to be as much of an obstacle as the filmmaker wants us to believe). When Jake gets back in the picture, the excitement now turns to which one of these rivals will Sarah chose.

The film’s deadest moments involve the rantings of Christopher Plummer: he brings three dates to a family gathering, whom he met through his deceptive Internet ads (lies about his age), and then spouts a playfully deep Yeats love poem entitled “Brown Penny,” and in another scene Plummer has his Internet dating ad answered by daughter Sarah–as if that’s supposed to bring down the house with laughter.

If you buy into Lane as a vulnerable woman with the time-clock ticking against her and that the men rivals are opposites–with the good guy being sincere, decent and marriage-minded and the bad guy being a smoothie seducer — then you might see more in this film than I did. I just had no feel for any of these characters (I actually thought they were all cut from the same cloth). The only thing I learned was that if the ad says “must love dogs,” it doesn’t mean you have to be a dog owner.