Must Love Dogs

Internet dating may have been considered taboo a decade ago, but now it’s the new and improved way to find a soul mate. Not only can you buy your groceries and the latest Harry Potter book on the internet, but dating is as simple as the click of a mouse button. As Samantha from "Sex & The City" said so eloquently, “You’ve got to get online, honey. If only for the porn.”

Diane Lane may be an adorably gorgeous lady, but let’s just disregard that and pretend she has trouble getting a date in movies. In Must Love Dogs, she plays thirty-something preschool teacher, Sarah Nolan, left emotionally crippled by her husband’s departure from their marriage. Her family is distressed that she has gone a whole eight months without a new man in her life, and they persistently try and hook her up with a variety of prospects. She would rather stay home and lick her wounds in peace, but they have other plans for her. Her father Bill (Christopher Plummer) is a widower who seems to have a new internet lover on his arm weekly, and tries to encourage her into the same scene. It doesn’t help that the first personal ad her sisters coerce her into answering, turns out to be her own father. Whoops.

On another side of town, Jake Anderson (John Cusack) is reeling in heartache from his own romantic downfalls. He is an idealistic wooden boat builder full of philosophical insights and awkward ramblings. Naturally, since he’s played by John Cusack, he is the most loveable guy that ever lived. And his favorite movie is Dr. Zhivago, a movie he feels expresses the deep layers of passion and yearning. All together now, “awww.”

After a series of failed and disastrous dates, fate tosses them a bone and they come together in a dog park. Sarah has a personal ad online, created by her sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins), calling her voluptuous, fun, and stating that respondents ‘must love dogs’. Jake shows up (with dog, as ordered) and after some flirty glances and exchanging of wits, the date ends abruptly after he accidentally offends her with socially inept observations. He is too honest for his own good, and too genuine to buy into the slick façade of dating. “He was nervous, couldn’t stop insulting me” she rehashes. She gives him another chance and they undeniably have chemistry, but Sarah can’t get hunky father-of-the-year Bob (Dermot Mulroney) from work out of her system. Will she choose the seemingly perfect guy or the guy that is perfect for her?

Well, duh. But I’d be lying if I denied that Must Love Dogs won me over with its charms. The casting of Cusack and Lane together in a romantic comedy is brilliant, and makes you wonder why nobody jumped on that pairing sooner. I only wish they had more scenes together and we spent less time waiting for them to stop jerking around and live happily ever after. What separates the movie from other romantic comedies is that the leads are well fleshed out characters with flaws and setbacks, and a lot of lingering sadness. It’s more about the hardships of moving on after severe heartache than it is about going on cutesy dates and trying to find someone to bring to the family barbeque. The script and performances are solid, but whoever decided to put sappy music overplaying during the film’s few moments of raw honesty really should be put on unemployment.

Must Love Dogs has an infectious spirit that makes it easier to forgive its flaws. Cusack and Lane will make you fall in love with them as they fall in love with each other. Although the movie feels by-the-numbers and follows a strict predictable formula, it is a pleasant enough experience. It's not When Harry Met Sally, but then again, what is?