Must Love Dogs movie review, Gary David Goldberg, Diane Lane, John Cusack, Dermot Mulroney, Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing. Review by Rob Blackwelder ©SPLICEDwire
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"Must Love Dogs"
2 stars
88 minutes | Rated: PG-13
WIDE: Friday, July 29, 2005
Written & directed by Gary David Goldberg

Starring Diane Lane, John Cusack, Dermot Mulroney, Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing, Ali Hillis, Julie Gonzalo, Elizabeth Perkins, Claire Coffee, Ben Shenkman, Brad Henke

  • Diane Lane
  • John Cusack
  • Dermot Mulroney
  • Christopher Plummer
  • Stockard Channing
  • Julie Gonzalo
  • Elizabeth Perkins

  •  LINKS for this film
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    at Rotten Tomatoes
    at Internet Movie Database
    Charm, good humor of smart love story between divorced 30-somethings undermined by contrivance, bad ending

    By Rob Blackwelder

    While watching "Must Love Dogs," a romantic comedy about moving on from divorcée depression, I was sure this would be a three-star review. The leads -- Diane Lane and John Cusack -- are irresistibly charismatic but accessible, the writing is wonderfully witty, and the story has a good hook: the travails of internet dating for people who are still young, but too mature and serious about love for delving into the meat market of bars and nightclubs.

    This was going to be a three-star review because of the way writer-director Gary David Goldberg (adapting Claire Cook's popular novel) deliberately flirted with and skirted around romantic comedy clichés, making the story familiar yet fresh:

    Custom boat builder Cusack and preschool teacher Lane meet early on (in a park with borrowed dogs they both pretended to own in their personal ads) and have a string of funny -- and perhaps a little too frank -- misfire dates that retain just enough chemistry to keep them both interested. But at the same time Lane, eight months out from being dumped for a younger woman and egged on by a family of amusingly well-intentioned busybodies, experiences bad date montages with other men. And Cusack wallows in a little self-inflicted depression over his own divorce by watching "Doctor Zhivago" at least once a day, slumped on his couch like a pile of laundry.

    This was going to be a three-star review right up until the movie's final five minutes, which are so much worse than any of the genre hallmarks "Must Love Dogs" goes out of its way to set up and knock down -- so much more sappy, saccharine, ridiculous and contrived -- that it broke the picture's charming spell.

    The more I thought about "Must Love Dogs," the worse it seemed. While Lane and Cusack each give winning performances that make you fall in love with them separately, the chemistry that keeps the characters interested in each other never develops into real magnetism. Sparks do not fly.

    While the screenplay is blessed with realistic setbacks (not manufactured misunderstandings) and loaded with breezy one-liners and clever bon mots about modern love (made even better by the disarming, unaffected delivery of the stars), it's also burdened with stock characters like Lane's gay best friend and a rival for her affections (Durmot Mulroney) who is far too obviously Mr. Wrong. Even when there are bumps in the road, the film lacks any suspense about where her relationship with Cusack is headed.

    And while Cusack's very nature gives his character Everyguy credibility, upon closer examination he's really an absurdly flawless fantasy concoction of a design-by-committee Perfect Man for the film's single-female-in-her-late-30s target audience. He's a craftsman with an artistic soul (he hand-builds teak crew-racing rowboats, even though they don't sell). He's sensitive and vulnerable, but confident enough to be himself and look a little goofy in front of the male-wary Lane. He gives speeches to his horny best friend about how he wants nothing to do with younger women because they're not seasoned enough to be interesting. He even turns down a perky 24-year-old knockout who throws herself at him -- twice.

    "Must Love Dogs" has so much going for it -- including sublime performances from Christopher Plummer as Lane's widower dad, Elizabeth Perkins as her "snap out of it!" sister, and Stockard Channing as Dad's new girlfriend, an aging trailer park tart in turquoise jewelry -- that for many it may be worth seeing in spite of its flaws.

    But the film's curdled aftertaste is so frustrating that it may be hard to remember why "Must Love Dogs" ever seemed so endearing and entertaining in the first place.

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