Dating in the 21st century
TODAY, INTERNET dating is as common as personal ads in the paper and probably works better than an appearance on Blind Date. Based on the book written by Claire Cook, Must Love Dogs is a romantic comedy about a couple of recent divorcees, Sarah (Diane Lane) and Jake (John Cusack). She’s a pre-school teacher and he’s a boat builder, who have both been talked into playing the online dating game.
I have always been taught never to use nice as a describing word, but it’s the best one for this unassuming movie. The warm characters and gentle comic moments rarely make you laugh out loud, but they do spark off smiles every now and again.
After her divorce, Sarah, encouraged by her large family acting like the supporting cast of Cheers, is forced to get out and find a new man. Her sisters (Perkins and Hillis) place a personal ad for her on www.perfectmatch.com, declaring that anyone answering it must love dogs, despite the fact that Sarah doesn’t own a dog herself. This leads to the obligatory scene where she has date after date with a series of spectacularly unlikely candidates. However, when Jake responds to the ad, she decides to borrow Mother Theresa, her brother’s dog, and plunge in. Jake has recently found himself single after a long relationship, but, unlike his friend Michael, he doesn’t simply want sex – he wants the whole package.
Of course, the two are meant for each other, but for a variety of fairly contrived reasons, their first date is a disaster, the second is almost as bad and the road to their inevitable relationship turns out to be a rocky one. They each doubt their own feelings, doubt the other’s feelings, miss each other through a misunderstanding, become convinced the other is dating someone else and clear all the other hurdles placed with clockwork precision, before reaching the inevitable finish line.
Must Love Dogs is like a puppy with big brown eyes and a wagging tail, who weeps with eagerness to lick your hand, but you take a look around the pound and decide to adopt the sad-eyed beagle, who looks as if it has seen a thing or two. Director Gary David Goldberg accepts that in dogs, as in love stories, it is better to choose wisdom over infatuation and takes the daring step of actually acknowledging, in a grown-up way, men and women have different motives for, and distinct approaches to, finding a partner.The film manages to be engaging, even though the plot is badly underdeveloped and relies on coincidences and contrived dialogue. It lacks energy and momentum, rolling amiably from scene to scene, getting increasingly mellow and soppy as it approaches its underwhelming climax. But even though the film feels strangled and corny, its emotional resonance is warm and authentic. It offers a handful of funny and touching moments and maintains a certain level of cuteness. But it’s far from original and its star chemistry doesn’t exactly light up the screen.
The movie is pleasant, sedate, subdued and sweet, but there is not a moment of suspense in it, mainly because even though it toys with heartbreak, it knows, as we do, that no hearts will be broken.
It’s actually a pretty sharply written script in the dialogue department and Cusack and Lane execute it nicely. However, the chemistry element wanes and the heart element is virtually absent. Still, for the most part, it’s good, clean fun and it’ll keep a smile on your face for an hour-and-a-half.
* * * Light, funny and amusing, this is a romantic comedy without much more purpose than to be a romantic comedy.