Must Love Dogs
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Gary David Goldberg
with Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney, Stockard Channing, Ben Shenkman, Ali Hillis, Brad William Henke, Julie Gonzalo, Glenn Howerton, Jordana Spiro
release US 29.Jul.05, UK 16.Sep.05
05/US Warner 1h38

Sit! Speak! Cusack, Lane and Mother Theresa (the dog)

perkins plummer mulroney

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Must Love Dogs "Nice" isn't usually a good label for a movie, but it's the best word to describe this unassuming romance. The warmly well-defined characters and gently intelligent comedy rarely make us laugh out loud, but they do spark smiles of recognition.

After her divorce, schoolteacher Sarah (Lane) is encouraged by her large family to get out and find a new man. Her sisters (Perkins and Hillis) set up an internet dating profile for her, with the eponymous requirement. In a sea of losers, one guy seems promising: Jake (Cusack), also recently divorced and also goaded to date again by his pal (Shenkman). As Jake and Sarah struggle to lower their guard, Sarah meets the 'hot dad' (Mulroney) of one of her students.

The film manages to be engaging, even though the plot is badly underdeveloped (for example, how does Jake fund his Bohemian boat-builder life when he's never sold a boat?) and relies on coincidences and contrived dialog. It also completely lacks energy or momentum, rolling amiably from scene to scene, getting increasingly mellow and soppy as it approaches its underwhelming climax. But even though the film feels strangled and corny, its emotional resonance is warm and authentic.

And the cast is fine. Lane strikes a balance of world-weariness and hopeful exuberance, connecting wonderfully with the characters around her and indulging in the script's silly dress-up moments. Cusack is more mopey than usual, while still injecting the occasional spark of humour. Plummer and Channing (as Sarah's dad and his new girlfriend) seem somewhat uncomfortable, trying a bit too hard to be cheery and vulnerable. And Mulroney merely relies on that crinkly smile and wonky face; surely he's even more tired of this than we are.

While dull and earnest, and never making much of its various running gags (the Dr Zhivago thing goes nowhere) or set-pieces (a dire condom hunt), it's nice to see a film that's so unrushed. And it should also be noted that Goldberg takes one daring step: He actually acknowledges in a grown-up way that men and women have different motives for and distinct approaches to finding a partner.

cert PG themes, language, innuendo 25.Aug.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Must Love Dogs Laurie T, Minneapolis: "What can I say - this is a great date movie, a fun movie. Or maybe a 'get you to reminisce about how you met' movie. (I answered his ad - before internet dating.) The parts were well cast and well played. I will no doubt buy this DVD when it comes out." (15.Aug.05)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall