Must Love Dogs

August, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Gary David Goldberg

Starring:Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, and Christopher Plummer

This romantic comedy from director Gary David Goldberg, a veteran of T.V. sitcoms, comes compete with a talented and attractive cast, handsome location photography and some genuinely appealing canines. What it lacks is a single fresh thought. Every scene, each line of dialogue and 100% of the plot and its subsets have been done….and done…so many times before on the small tube it’s hard not to call this one “Must Love Recycling”.

Diane Lane, the remarkably underrated actress whose presence in television mini-series (Lonesome Dove), independent films (A Walk On The Moon) and big Hollywood dramas (Unfaithful) argues for more and better scripts plays Sarah, a 40ish preschool teacher whose husband has walked out on her. She meets Jake, (no one in this movie has a last name worth remembering or repeating) played by John Cusack. He’s fresh from a disastrous marriage and anxious not to make the same mistakes all over again. Introduced via the Internet in the hokiest of devices, this pair jousts for 98 thoroughly boring minutes until each discovers they were made for each other. Fadeout.

Cusack, whose work in romantic comedies like Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity demonstrates more likeability than any other actor of his generation works hard here but to little effect. His rapid-fire monologues, (a sanitized version of the foul harangues Vince Vaughn is noted for) are usually loaded with amusing, rueful self-knowledge, but thanks to Goldberg’s screenplay, adapted from a novel by Claire Cook, Cusack’s Jake hasn’t an ounce of originality in him. Lane, a lovely woman unafraid to play someone her actual age, seems self-conscious here; her supposedly conflicted motivations seem artificial even to her and as a result, there’s no chemistry between these two otherwise quite appealing actors.

Elizabeth Perkins, as Sarah’s tart-tongued sister Carol, does a nice turn, but Christopher Plummer looks somnambulant as the girls’ father while Stockard Channing skates close to compete career disaster playing Plummer’s 60+ year-old girlfriend. No paycheck could compensate properly for the abuse to which the director and this role subject her.

Even by the relaxed standards of warm weather movie entertainment, this one isn’t about dogs—it is one. 

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