August 4, 2005
Must Love Dogs
By Amy Diaz
Like the continental
drift that is slowly moving San Francisco to Los Angeles, Diane Lane and
John Cusack take for-EV-er to creep toward each other in the lazily
constructed Must Love Dogs.
Diane Lane seems to be
making something of a career out of playing these post-35-year-old women
who get dumped, mope, pull themselves up by their control-top nylons and
live the dream of a house in Tuscany or, in this case, a committed
relationship with someone who looks like John Cusack. These movies are,
essentially, porn for the romantically challenged. And like porn, they
succeed at giving devotees of this genre a perfect fantasy for a series
of events that starts with a fleeting glimpse of an attractive man and
ends with True Love. Like porn, if you’re not into this particular kind
of delusion, not only will these stories do nothing for you, but they’ll
end up making you feel dirty.
Sarah (Lane), recently
divorced, is pretty and sweet. Her marriage was the perfect kind of
failed marriage for this type of movie — she would have stuck it out but
admits now that both parties were unhappy. Jake (Cusack) is the male
equivalent and is therefore mourning the exact opposite kind of marriage
— he loved his wife terribly and she broke his heart. This signifies
that he is a great romantic partner and a sensitive caring person in a
world of guys just looking for a good time. How do we know? Why else
would he spend all his time building wooden boats and watching Dr.
Zhivago? And the movie goes out of the way to show him, on several
occasions, spurning sex with hot young women because of the purity of
his lovesick heart.
Right, and all those
porn movies about delivery men and housewives? Totally true.
Though it’s clear to us
in the audience that these two eggshell-fragile people have to be
together, if for no other reason than that no one else would ever be as
delicate with them, the movie pretends like we might not know this and
throws a bunch of “roadblocks” (or, more accurately, cheap contrivances)
in the way of their coupling. At first, we have their own awkwardness
with dating again. Then we have scenes where they almost, but not quite,
have sex, with each letdown raising all sorts of moronic doubts about
each other. Then there is Bob (Dermot Mulroney). I think the movie wants
him to be a charming cad, sort a less dark version of George Clooney’s
character on E.R.. But Mulroney the actor has never been even remotely
convincing as a romantic figure so when he shows up as the father of one
of the preschool students Sarah teaches, his presence seems to do
nothing but drag out the already plodding pace of the movie.
The whole setup for the
film and for Sarah’s big return to the dating world is this
revolutionary thing called Internet dating. It’s cutting-edge stuff,
people. I always find it entertaining when movies “discover” technology
and show themselves to be three trends behind the times. We see Sarah
deal with a series of losers and get constant examples of the fakeness
of the romances created at Internet match sites. Yes, I’m sure there’s
plenty of falseness out there on the Internet, but there’s also plenty
of falseness about the way Internet dating is portrayed in the movie.
Between people I know who go the Internet route to find dates and such
simplistic mainstream portrayals of the service as Hooking Up, I’ve
heard plenty of stories of an online dating world that’s a lot more like
a big, non-stop dinner party than it is the mysterious chain-mail affair
it’s made out to be in the movie. This weakness undermines even further
the weak development of Sarah and Jake’s romance and of the extremely
slight amount character arc this story creates. The Internet gimmick,
like so much in the movie, feels like pure laziness. The movie wants to
give us shorthand explanations that push us through to the big money
shots — the scenes where people kiss or cry or pine.
John Cusack is my hero
for trying to give his part more life than was written into it. Though
most of the characters (including supporting roles played by Christopher
Plummer and Stockard Channing) get at least a handful of good lines,
only Cusack really seems to make the best of them.
What a perfect
component to divorcee porn — a man whose sense of humor nearly saves the