MUST LOVE DOGS A film review by David N. Butterworth Copyright 2005 David N. Butterworth
*** (out of ****)
Internet dating works, that much is a given nowadays--how many of us know people who know people whose best friend or family member met the love of their life online? But is it funny?
Gary David Goldberg's "Must Love Dogs" answers that question with an emphatic "Yes!"
Of course it very much helps if those posting their personal profiles on the likes of perfectmatch.com look, think, and act like Diane Lane ("Under the Tuscan Sun"). And it also helps if those responding to those profiles look, think, and act like John Cusack ("Runaway Jury"). It's a bit of a stretch to imagine these two 40- somethings single but I was willing to give it a shot in the hope that that decision would pay romantic and comedic dividends (it did).
"Must Love Dogs" is a romantic comedy about a couple of partner- shy divorcees, she a preschool teacher, he a builder or boats, who are talked into playing the online dating game. Personally Cusack makes for a much more convincing woodworker than Lane does a day care worker, even though I did catch him laying his plane blade-down at one point, rather than on its side, which no self-respecting carpenter would ever do. But this film isn't about projecting professional images, it's about being attractive and witty and self-effacing and both Cusack and Lane share those traits in spades.
Lane's Sarah has just had her husband of many years ditch her--"he just stopped loving me." Fortunately she comes from a large family of caretakers who are more than willing to offer her advice, advice in the form of photographs and telephone numbers of eligible men stuck to the refrigerator. Similarly Jake (Cusack) has recently found himself single again after a long relationship. Unlike his friend and legal advisor Michael (Glenn Howerton), Jake doesn't simply want sex. He wants the whole enchilada. (Sarah likes to eat hers standing at the kitchen sink; as a single gal she most definitely does not want a lot of chicken hanging around.)
Sarah is both reluctant and a little bit afraid to re-enter the dating scene but does so on the urging of her sister Carol (nicely played by Elizabeth Perkins). She mixes it up, in a variety of dresses and hairstyles, with a variety of odd sorts--the crybaby, the toupee, the pig, etc. Jake, on the other hand, zeroes in on Sarah and Sarah alone. He's first intrigued by her "voluptuous" high school picture ("I didn't recognize you without the cap and gown"), then by her dog (a huge black Newfoundland called Mother Theresa), and finally by Sarah herself--"she's shy, she's fragile, she has no idea how beautiful she is. She's a mess... it's fantastic!" he tells Michael, approvingly.
Better known for his TV work--he created "Sugar Hill," "Spin City," and the seminal "Family Ties"--Goldberg has done two rare things with "Must Love Dogs": directed a movie (1989's "Dad" being his only other behind-the-camera credit) and one that's actually better than the book on which it's based (by Claire Cook). It's well written and takes full advantage of its likeable leads' cuteness factor.
And for much of the film I had a huge slobbery grin plastered across my face like a pooch that'd just been thrown a delectably tempting bone.
-- David N. Butterworth email@example.com
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