Must Love Dogs

It is hard to imagine two more likable actors than Diane Lane and John Cusack. On screen they come across as genuinely good people, and frequently play characters that engender a lot of sympathy with audiences. So it's mystifying why these two would choose such a formulaic film as Must Love Dogs, a romantic comedy that is different only in that it centers on two divorced people and the internet. Each romcom needs to do something different and this one tries. It starts okay, but then falls into the familiar plot twists that unnecessarily separate two people near the end of a film, only to have them come together for a happy ending.

Part of the reason that Sarah Nolan (Lane, Under the Tuscan Sun, Unfaithful) and Jake Anderson (Cusack, Runaway Jury, Identity) are so likable is that seem so, well, normal (aside from being impossibly good-looking). They both have their little neuroses, and act like total dorks when they get nervous. Things are especially bad for Nolan, whose husband left her for a younger woman. Her entire family is trying to set her up with a new man, and her sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins, The Ring Two, Jimmy Glick in Lalawood). Her ad attracts a whole host of weirdos and lonely men, including Anderson. Anderson is still getting over the divorce of his wife. He makes hand-carved wooden kayaks that nobody buys, and mopes around in a series of Ramones t-shirts. His friend Charlie (Ben Shenkman, Waking Dreams, Personal Velocity) was answering ads for him, and reluctantly convinces Anderson to meet Nolan.

As expected, their first date is a disaster. Yet, each person likes the other enough to agree to a second date, which again goes horribly wrong. It's here that writer/director Gary David Goldberg (Dad), who based the film on Claire Cook's novel, begins to go downhill. Anderson, already a bit bitter, heads further in the same direction. Nolan, a preschool teacher, finds solace in Bob Connor (Dermot Mulroney, The Wedding Date, Undertow), the single father of one her students. He's handsome and slick and she knows he's a player, but she still goes with him anyway.

It's a bit of a shame that the plot becomes so familiar, because the acting in Must Love Dogs is surprisingly decent. Goldberg chose some heavy duty people in supporting roles, including Christopher Plummer (Alexander, National Treasure) as Nolan's father Bill, and Stockard Channing (Anything Else, Le Divorce) as her new girlfriend. Bill is also testing the internet dating waters. Everybody is a bit quirky, but it feels natural in a 'crazy family' sense rather than a 'fake movie' sort of way. It's nice to see a romantic comedy with people not in their twenties, but one wishes that the plot matured along with the age.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content.

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