Must Love Dogs

Decent enough romcom, staying well within established genre comfort zones.

Released in 2005, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 23 Sep 2005 by Scott Morris
Must Love Dogs image

Goddammit. I was ready to loathe this film, I really was. The trailer made it seems so ripe to hate. John Cusack, whose arty, edge work we tend to admire round these parts heading further down the path of insipid mediocrity typified by Runaway Jury and Identity. Another completely identikit romantic comedy of the sort told several thousand times over. I was anticipating the familiar white hot, incandescent rage to flow producing the torrents of bile so vitriolic that you wake up in a ditch four days later gibbering slightly with no recollection of where you've been or what you've wrote. Must Love Dogs wrongfoots me somewhat by being far too decent a film to hate, and I absolutely hate that.

Not that it's a film for the ages, or even a film for next year. It's certainly as reasonable a romcom outing as you could hope for, although as such your enjoyment of this will vary according to your remaining tolerance for an increasingly staid genre. Jake (Cusack) builds beautiful, handcrafted rowing boats that no-one buys. Hurting from his divorce, his lawyer friend decides to set him up with some Internet datin' action. Meanwhile, Sarah (Diane Lane) is similarly looking for a love life after divorce, and unknowingly signed up for some Internet datin' action by her omnipresent, meddling family. I'm sure you can see where this is heading.

Sarah's already struggling to control an attraction to the father of one of her pupil charges, Bob (Dermot Mulroney). Professionalism precludes such a relationship, but I'm sure you can see where this is heading. I suppose the interesting thing about Must Love Dogs is that for once it's the woman cast in a slightly (ever so slightly) dubious moral position rather than the boneheaded man, but for the most part it's another 'comic misunderstanding' that causes conflicts in the relationships. Everything's put back in it's right place by the end of the piece, just in case you though this was going to turn into something completely revolutionary.

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It's about as original as having a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, which is why I'm slightly surprised to see that this was adapted from a novel by Claire Cook. This may account for the slightly more complete characterisation that Cusack and Lane manage to exhibit so lacking in many of its brethren - Jack and Sarah feel like characters that exist outside of the scenes they're in, like they have complete lives that you don't need to see. Which is nice, and a credit to the aforementioned leads even if it's only to be expected from two fine character actors.

Lane and her on-screen family display a laudable familiarity and are rarely less than convincing, patriarch Bill (Christopher Plummer) having a particularly neat turn as a roguish Oi'rish scamp. Cusack and Lane's chemistry might not set the screen on fire, or even smolder particularly, but it's serviceable enough for this sort of fare.

I suppose 'serviceable enough' is a decent enough summary of the whole film, typified by the fact I can't really think of anything interesting to say about it. It's sustaining enough for it's duration, remains largely uneventful and fades from the memory quickly rather like a cottage pie. Unlike a cottage pie, it's not full of mince, but it's also not full of anything worth actually seeking this film out. Should a gentle romcom be required for datage purposes this is as reasonable an example as is currently in a multiplex, and that's about the limit of this movie's purpose and indeed it's ambition.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Gary David Goldberg
Cast list:
Diane Lane (Sarah)
John Cusack (Jake)
Elizabeth Perkins (Carol)
Christopher Plummer (Bill)
Dermot Mulroney (Bob)
Stockard Channing (Dolly)