out of Five
Running time: 98
Watchable, grown-up romantic comedy with likeable performances and some witty lines.
The majority of romantic comedies seem to be about people who are either in their mid-20s (e.g. A Lot Like Love) or, at most, their early 30s (e.g.
Hitch), so it’s refreshing to see a film where the two main characters are
a) divorced and b) over 40. Or rather, it’s nice to see a film like that which isn’t directed by Woody Allen. At any rate, Must Love Dogs is more successful as a romance than as a comedy, but it’s very watchable, largely thanks to the performances of its talented cast.
The film stars Diane Lane as Sarah, a schoolteacher who hasn’t quite gotten over her divorce. She’s reached the stage where her friends and family are constantly recommending people they think she ought to go out with, to the point where her two sisters (Elizabeth Perkins and Ali Hillis) set up an internet dating profile for her and send her off on a series of amusingly awful dates - the film’s title comes from one of her profile’s requirements.
On one such date she meets Jake (John Cusack), a boat-builder, also recovering from a divorce and also shoved into the internet dating world by his best friend (and, er, lawyer), Charlie (Ben Shenkman). However, just as everything seems to be going well with Jake, things develop between Sarah and the ‘hot dad’ (Dermot Mulroney) of one of her pre-school students.
Diane Lane makes an extremely appealing lead and there’s good chemistry between her and Cusack, perhaps because of their shared history at the edges of the Brat Pack in the 1980s. Cusack is a lot more mopey than usual (a running gag involves him endlessly watching Doctor Zhivago) but he’s also the funniest thing in the film, particularly when excitedly describing Sarah to his best friend. There’s also good comic support from Christopher Plummer (as Sarah’s poetry-quoting dad), Stockard Channing (as Sarah’s dad’s
girlfriend) and Mulroney, who puts his standard too-good-to-be-true nice guy act to good use.
One of the worst things about recent romantic comedies is ‘The Bill Pullman Problem’ – namely, when the female lead has a choice between two seemingly nice guys, one of them has to be let down gently and believably. (Usually, it’s the one played by Bill Pullman, as in Sleepless in Seattle). Must Love Dogs gets around this problem more nimbly than most films, but you still feel a little bit cheated.
There are other problems, too, such as an over-reliance on coincidence (even for a romantic comedy) and niggling questions such as exactly where Jake’s money is coming from if he’s never sold a boat. Similarly, the main comic set-piece -a condom hunt- isn’t funny (it didn’t work for Alfie on EastEnders and it doesn’t work here either) and the romantic climax is poorly directed and doesn’t quite hit the right note. That said, there are several witty lines and the relationships between the likeable characters are both believable and engaging.
In short, Must Love Dogs definitely has its moments and deserves praise for presenting a more grown-up couple than we’re used to seeing in Hollywood romcoms. Worth seeing.