Must Love Dogs

Synopsis: Pretty pre-school teacher Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane) is divorced, demoralized and dateless – until her sister posts her profile at perfectmatch.com. Now she has lots of dates. With weirdos, weepers, lechers, jocks – and Jake (John Cusack), a soulful boat builder whose idea of true love comes straight out of Doctor Zhivago. Jake is attractive, smart and maybe a bit too intense. So Sarah passes him by. And maybe passes up her one real chance for love.

With a witty script and irresistible stars (including Christopher Plummer as Sarah’s widowed dad, weaving his own worldwide web of romance, and Stockard Channing as his new lady friend), this romantic comedy is as delightful a surprise as a perfect blind date. Don’t miss out: love could be just a mouse click away!
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Must Love Dogs 7.5

With a title like this one, and featuring Diane Lane, I always regarded ‘Must Love Dogs’ as a sappy romantic comedy that I would probably prefer avoiding. I didn’t expect it to be terrible, per se, but I did expect it to be mundanely déjà vu. Since I have plenty of other things to watch, I figured that I could safely avoid this one without losing sleep.

What nagged at me, however, was that John Cusack co-stars with Lane. That lent the film a certain credibility and piqued my curiosity somewhat. But, fearing the worst, I didn’t much feel like paying a fortune for it. So, when I found it for peanuts, after a couple of years of see-sawing between buying it or not, I finally pounced.

It turns out that ‘Must Love Dogs’ was a nice surprise.

The story was well written. It tells the tale from two perspectives instead of just one – even though it’s probably more of a 60/40 breakdown in favour of Diane Lane’s character. It mixes drama and humour rather effectively, not overdoing the humour (like some romantic comedies do) to the expense of the pathos; while both characters are dealing with their own losses, they still face situations that are true-to-life funny (such as Lane’s unexpected lunch encounter with her father)

The film tackles romance after divorce and in later years in a mature, yet lighthearted, fashion – something which I felt was a welcome perspective, considering the over-abundance of youth-geared films. It also touches lightly, but hilariously, on age differences in couples – another big plus for a film that could have thoughtlessly shelled out retreads.

As far as the cast and characters are concerned, I found that neither of the main characters were insipid, stupid or weak – they are both congenial, if quirky, people. Oftentimes in these films, the humour (if not key plot points!) depends on the various frailties of its leads. I truly enjoyed seeing grounded characters dealing with things with their heads mostly well-affixed.

The acting is solid throughout, and no one ever over-reaches for effect. Diane Lane plays herself, as she usually does, and fits right in with her onscreen family. John Cusack also plays himself, but here he returned to some of his roots, wearing rock shirts and a long black coat that aren’t typical of his age group (hence why I noticed and thought it was cool). Christopher Plummer, in particular, shines in this piece, playing the gallivanting father with a delicious twinkle in his eye.

Unfortunately, as well-crafted as the film is, it doesn’t take us to emotional peaks that are necessary in this genre: the laughs aren’t strong enough and the drama isn’t all that moving. Granted, it’s probably more realistic in some ways, but it left me a bit flat at the end, when all was neatly wrapped up for us. And yet I must admit that a nice feeling remains when I think of this film, and I wonder if it won’t grow on me over time, with repeat viewings.

Despite its title (and unlike ‘Best in Show’), ‘Must Love Dogs’ is not especially for dog lovers or pet owners. It’s not even about dogs; it’s strictly a reference to a significant plot device in this film. It’s a funny, wry piece that is good enough to entertain, innocuous enough that most people could watch it unscathed, and is strong enough in all respects that even the harshest critic will probably nod in favour grudgingly.

And, while it may not be a movie that one MUST love, it’s hard to dislike. ‘Must Love Dogs’ doesn’t bite.

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