Some versions of the lonely-girl-finally-meets-boy movie are just so simple and so cheesy that you get mad at yourself when you get all emotional and end up crying. There's nothing to movies like this '- it's just that they end up touching a cord that has been weakened by generations of sappy stories. Must Love Dogs, and the best-seller it's based on, is a standard bearer in this genre, touched up for the modern generation of Internet dating woes.
Diane Lane is the perfect heroine for this type of movie. As Sarah, a divorcee who is getting back to dating, she is ditzy yet dignified. Because of that slight edge of whimsy, it's plausible that she has failed in love, even though she looks fantastic and is seemingly perfect otherwise. There's no darkness to her preschool teacher character, of course. She doesn't contemplate any sexual hang-ups or severe commitment anxieties. Her only flip-out is when she goes to the meat counter to buy a single chicken breast for dinner and doesn't want to be talked into buying a bulkier special. So she's got all the trappings of the ordinary single woman without any of the actual baggage, just like a fantasy should.
When Sarah's big Irish family sets her up with an Internet dating profile on PerfectMatch.com, she goes along with it warily, but not out of any sense of desperation or longing. Her only major qualification for the guy, which is where the title comes in, is that he must love dogs. What about her? Is there no requirement for liking her?
Once she starts meeting the guys, director Gary David Goldberg's sitcom experience on shows like Family Ties takes over and carries on way longer than a half hour. He sets up a seemingly endless string of bad dates for her, and then a seemingly endless string of scenarios that mess up the two good prospects she finds. She ends up wavering between Bob, the father of one of her students (a snarling Dermot Mulroney, who can't pull off the pure sex appeal needed for the role), and Jake, an aimless boat maker (John Cusack).
Bob is the obvious villain, but Jake is a tricky read. Cusack makes him utterly appealing, but for no discernible reason. His character is never fleshed out with enough details to make him real. Why has he dropped out of regular working society to make boats that he can't sell? Why is he so messed up about love? And why is his idiotic friend (Ben Shenkman) given any screen time at all?
In the end, it hardly matters, because it's not anything in the movie itself that's going to resonate with the core audience of romantics who go to these things hoping to stir up their own passions. All a movie like this has to do is hit the major touchstones and smooth it all over with some nice acting, pretty pictures and cool music, and it will be a romantic-comedy hit.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you cry, but you might be mad at yourself afterward
Stars: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Dermot Mulroney
Director/screenwriter: Gary David Goldberg
Producers: Gary David Goldberg, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd
Release date: July 29, 2005, nationwide
Distributor: Warner Bros.