Hippo Manchester
August 4, 2005

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Must Love Dogs (PG-13)
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 day.