Must Love Dogs (2005)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 1; L-2 ; S-5/N-0. Running time: 1:38.

Upon my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
Song of Songs 3:1

Must Love Dogs

Gary David Goldberg both wrote and directed this frothy romantic comedy exploring the hazards of Internet dating. Distinguished by a literate script and charming performances, it would make a good date movie for singles. A family movie it is not, with the funny sequence involving the would-be lovers in a frantic search for condoms requiring a bit more explanation for young viewers than most parents probably would want to provide. (At least we can say that responsible sex is promoted, even though we would prefer abstinence until marriage.)

Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane), recently divorced and lonely, dreads entering into dating again. Her doting family, consisting of two sisters, a brother and a widowed father, are constantly badgering her to meet “this nice man,” who recently was (a) widowed; (b) divorced: or (c) just plain lonely. Sarah’s sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) is especially persistent, even concocting a fictional bio of Sarah that includes the words “voluptuous” and “must love dogs,” even though Sarah does not own a canine. Joining the description with her sister’s high school graduation picture, Carol sends it to an Internet dating service. Very upset at first, Sarah reluctantly reads through the numerous responses, eliminating most right away. There follows the usual quick succession of shots of disastrous dates—one of them is constantly weeping over his loss, and another turns out to be her dapper father Bill Nolan (Christopher Plummer), who, though claiming to have loved his wife of over 40 years, acquires a small harem of female companions. One of these is Dolly, played by scene stealing Stockard Channing.

Jake Anderson (John Cusack) responds to her ad. He is a builder of wooden racing boats, even though most people prefer the allegedly faster fiberglass kind. Also divorced and lonely, he sits at home at night with his best friend and cries over Dr. Zhivago. Borrowing a dog, he meets Sarah, who has borrowed her sister’s dog Mother Teresa, in a pet park. He inadvertently insults her by asking why she used the word “voluptuous,” since, he blurts out, that is usually a euphemism for fat. We know that getting off on the wrong foot will eventually lead to the couple getting together, and that there will be lots of misunderstandings along the way—the kind of complications that in real life would be resolved by one or the other saying, “Wait a minute, this is what really happened.” But, of course, this would have made for too short of a story to make into a movie.

There is an admirable pop philosophy underlying the film, revealed in Jake telling Sarah that when the heart is hurt or broken, it grows bigger, which is the reason “we go through all this pain.” Not bad, a little above those fortune cookie wisdom notes, and we are even introduced to a thoughtful poem by Yeats when Bill Nolan recites at a party “Brown Penny.” Still, the film is a bit of froth, but so much better than most of the other summer film fare. However, this is Diane Lane lite; for a better appreciation of her acting skills, go rent A Walk on the Moon, a far more realistic take on the pain of love and loneliness, even amidst domesticity.

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