Must Love Dogs Movie Review

Hollywood overexposes young starlets, from Lindsay Lohan to Scarlett Johansson, and puts distinguished veterans on pedestals. Yet the industry has no idea how to handle an actress once she reaches her late thirties or forties. Lacking suitable offers for mainstream parts, these talented ladies either pour their fortunes into vanity projects (Salma Hayek in Frida), turn to lower-budget independent fare (Holly Hunter in Thirteen), or dabble in primetime television (The Shield lures Glenn Close, and Teri Hatcher is reborn as a Desperate housewife).

A recent trend finds older but still attractive actresses downheartedly treading water in the dating pool for the benefit of a far-fetched plot. Heather Locklear played a flighty single mom unlucky in love for Hilary Duff's The Perfect Man. Now Oscar-nominee Diane Lane is taking her turn in the barrel with improved results.

Eight months after her bitter divorce, Sarah (Lane) sifts through her large Irish family's misguided matchmaking attempts and wonders aloud if she'll ever find love again. With unsolicited assistance from her older sister, Carol (Elizabeth Perkins), Sarah posts a profile to an Internet dating website and enters a steady stream of social disasters. Two suitors gradually rise to the surface: smarmy but outwardly nice Bob (played by smarmy Dermot Mulroney), and intense but ultimately decent Jake (John Cusack).

Writer/director Gary David Goldberg, a sitcom scribe with M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show on his resume, mines a Claire Cook novel for small, steady, and consistent laughs. His breezy and light charmer is sentimental and blessed with a heart. Dogs also makes some soft comments on cyber dating through Stockard Channing. Initially interested in Sarah's father (the smooth Christopher Plummer), she gets caught in a pinch after fudging the facts on her own dating profile.

Since they grace the poster, we know Lane and Cusack are meant to mate, though the two share a minimal chemistry that's slow to form. We almost have more fun when the main couple is apart and interacting with their supporting players. Cusack's on cruise control, not sinking to sleepwalking level but hitting his marks with the casual stride of someone who's explored this territory before. His shuffle stands out in contrast to the nimble juggling act managed by Lane.

Goldberg throws in filler for his final frames to keep his leads apart longer and prolong the inevitable. Mulroney returns, Sarah endures a few more bad blind dates, and we patiently wait. Even vehicles on autopilot eventually reach their destinations, though, and Dogs proves to be an easy ride.

Must not love dogs that much!


Must Love Dogs Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2005


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