One of the less popular films of 2005 is Must Love Dogs, an animated romantic comedy about two recent divorcees. Directed and adapted for the screen by Gary David Goldberg, veteran screenwriter of shows like MASH and Family Ties, the film offers plenty of laughs and very few tense or strained moments. As usual, John Cusack’s character appears on the big screen as a friendly and enigmatic personality. Cusack and Diane Lane make a good match on screen, but the script lacks a bit of its delivery skills. Like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on You’ve Got Mail, the concept and the couple are intriguing, but the unmet high expectations leave a lot to be desired …
Must Love Dogs follows the life of Sarah Nolan (Diane Lane), a recently divorced preschool teacher trying to move on with her life. Sarah’s sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) constantly pesters her to get out of her and meet Mr. Perfect, but her insistence does nothing to cheer Sarah up, who is depressed to the limit.
However, Carol’s well-intentioned act of hiring her sister on PerfectMatch.com provides a handful of potential clues. One of them is a newly divorced woodworking artist named Jake (John Cusack), and the two decide to meet their dogs in the park. The reunion is forgettable, but the two develop a slight attraction to each other.
Meanwhile, Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the father of one of Sarah’s students, develops her attraction to Sarah, forming a love triangle that leaves Sarah in utter confusion. Since Bill (Christopher Plummer), Sarah’s widowed father, plays the field much more successfully, he seems to exacerbate Sarah’s disillusioned outlook. But when one of her father’s new friends, the kind and brave Dolly (Stockard Channing), gives some of her advice on life and relationships, it makes for a more interesting and fun movie. Caught between two unknown outcomes, Sarah must choose the right relationship for her. But in the course of her hesitation, she risks losing the only relationship of the two that is really worth it.
Funny and often witty, Must Love Dogs has some great scenes and original jokes. Based on Claire Cook’s best-selling novel, Must Love Dogs will never be mistaken for a deeply symbolic or Oscar-worthy image, and the plot itself is pretty predictable. But the movie manages to do the most important job a movie can do: entertain. While it does suffer from bad dialogue at times, it is not a completely throwaway movie. Like another recent Diane Lane movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, the obligatory gay friend with an attractive girlfriend is there for advice on their relationship.