Must Love Dogs
Times have been tough for cinematic singletons. Debra Messing had such a hard time finding a companion in The Wedding Date, she had to hire a male escort. Heather Locklear had to move from city to city in search of The Perfect Man. And now Diane Lane is forced to look for love on perfectmatch.com. What is Hollywood coming to?
We nonfictional single gals have found camaraderie and sympathy in these fictional singlehood depictions—and yet we've also found despair. When Debra Messing, Heather Locklear, and Diane Lane can't find love, what chance do the rest of us stand?
Thankfully, Diane Lane, in her latest romantic comedy turn as newly divorced Sarah Nolan, is allowed to have wrinkles, messy hair days, and a wardrobe that includes nondescript jeans and sweaters. The realism is refreshing. As is a love story not centered solely on the 20-something set. Instead we have jaded 40-somethings taking their first tentative steps toward loving again—mostly pushed by their nosy family members, friends, coworkers, deli counter guys, and manicurists.
In fact, the opening scene finds Sarah being ambushed at a family gathering; each family member has brought a photo of a potential love interest. It's only been eight months since her divorce, but they think it's high time she move on already. When she tosses all these suggested suitors in the trash, her pushy sister (Elizabeth Perkins) creates an ad for her on perfectmatch.com. Cue the parade of freaky single men sporting everything from tears to toupees.
But there's one cyber suitor, Jake (John Cusack), Sarah meets in a dog park (with her brother's hulking dog, Mother Teresa, in tow) who shows some neurotic glimmers of hope. And then one of Sarah's preschool students turns out to have a hot newly single dad, Bob (Dermot Mulroney), who comes with a Ph.D. Both men present complications (date a student's parent? go out with a potential nut-job?), and even more complications arise in the rare moments when Sarah dares to open her heart to the possibility of romance.
Chick flick regulars can guess the rest. An emotional tug-of-war over the two hunky guys (if only real single life was like this!). Consultations with the requisite gay best friend. Misunderstandings and mishaps that keep the couple(s) apart. An a-ha moment of relational clarity followed by a sprint to profess undying love to the Right One before it's Too Late. Cue the big dramatic of-course-it's-always-been-you ending, the dreamy kiss, and the rolling credits with the kicky love song serving as the icing to this celluloid confection. When this equation is done well, we don't mind the predictability so much. We actually like a well-executed escape from the tough realities of love (or lack thereof) in the three-dimensional world. Unfortunately, Must Love Dogs falls just short of this level of quality and instead seems like a somewhat tired return to Romantic Comedy Land.
There are a few diversions from the chick-flick formula that work well here. One is Stockard Channing, looking altogether different from her TV role as The West Wing's First Lady. Though she has to compete with two other women for Sarah's dad's affections (Christopher Plummer) and is given an oddball plot line with another Internet love-interest, she shines in her moments of vulnerability about being adrift in the cyber sea of love in a travel-weary boat. John Cusack is as adorable as ever and rescues some potentially cheesy dialogue and plot lines. The scene in which he turns down his best friend's offer to set him up with the 24-year-old office tramp, stating she wouldn't have near enough depth or intrigue for him, will have women in the audience cheering.