Monday, 5 September 2011

Movie Review: Must Love Dogs (2005)


The romantic comedy meets on-line dating for an exploratory coffee, with results that mix pleasant small talk with a sweet-enough hug and kiss on the cheek at the end of the night as a strong cast helps push Must Love Dogs towards watchable territory.

Sarah (Diane Lane), an elementary schoolteacher in her early forties, is in a prolonged post-divorce slump, frumpy and semi-depressed despite the best attempts of her sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) to get her back into a relationship. Sarah's mood is not improved when she realizes that her widowed dad Bill (Christopher Plummer) is enjoying the single life with a succession of dates and overlapping relationships. Sarah is attracted to the hunky but shifty Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the parent of one of her students, but this does not stop Carol signing up Sarah to an on-line dating service, including in her profile that her suitors "must love dogs". Sarah immediately gets responses from 18 interested men, but most turn into the usual first-date disasters.

Jake (John Cusack) builds classic wooden canoes that nobody wants to buy, and his divorce has just been finalized. A hopeless romantic addicted to repeated viewings of Doctor Zhivago, Jake's divorce reinforces his view of love being doomed to tragic failure. His lawyer friend Charlie (Ben Shenkman) eventually convinces him to respond to on-line dating ads, where he ends up as one of Sarah's dates. Although their initial meetings are just short of disastrous, Sarah and Jake ignite enough of a spark to persist with building a relationship that eventually flourishes, pushing Sarah to decide between Jake's sensitivity and Bob's ruggedness.

John Cusack and Diane Lane make an engaging couple, mixing comic awkwardness with the warmth of damaged hearts looking to believe in love again. They are surrounded by a better than usual supporting cast, led by the indefatigable Christopher Plummer as Bill, marching ever onwards in his career and not hesitating to pursue companionship and romance as Sarah's sprightly dad. Stockard Channing adds colour as the earthy Dolly, one of Bill's more durable arm ornaments. Elizabeth Perkins, Dermot Mulroney and Ben Shenkman contribute welcome depth to the talent level.

Director Gary David Goldberg translates the quality of his television productions Family Ties and Spin City to the screen, keeping the comedy understated and allowing his stars to shine unencumbered by boorish behaviour or larger-than-life episodes.

On-line dating quickly transitioned from novelty to mainstream, and Must Love Dogs dates itself as an exploration of romance enabled by technology that was only new for a short period. Nevertheless, the film survives because as this genre never fails to remind us, true love triumphs over all adversity.





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