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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Must Love Dogs" (2005)

There needs to be a master list out there of conventional Romantic Comedy clichés and gestures that filmmakers and writers can refer to so as not to play to them ever again. For a while, I had a template review for Romantic Comedies that I would use as a default, simply because I ran out of ideas on how to review them. I got tired of finding new ways to say the same thing over and over and over again. I could just have easily used that template for this review, but it’s been too long since I started the series and have skipped so many Rom-Coms altogether that the whole thing seems out-dated to me now.

But seriously, who would notice? You basically take a review for any Rom-Com in the past few years—Chasing Liberty, The Prince and Me, anything with the word Wedding in the title—and just change a few words around. The review writes itself, just like the movie. It’s not laziness on my part, but rather the filmmakers out there who lack the backbone necessary to formulate an original thought. At what point do we grow tired of these films? Never? Really? I mean, I’m as romantic as the next guy and I welcome a fun little love story with two actors who have chemistry to burn, but where are they?

“Must Love Dogs” tries to get by on the premise that two people can fall in love by

  1. meeting on an internet dating service

  2. owning dogs

  3. loving dogs

That’s the twist. Every good love story needs a twist. Other than that, it’s your standard rom-com affair. Diane Lane plays Sarah, a recently divorced school teacher (because we need to have a scene where cute kids say really cute “adult” things) who’s family insists she get back out there and find another man. Of course, it never occurs to anyone that maybe what she really needs is a house she can actually afford on a teacher’s salary, but never mind. She has her promiscuous sister and gay male best friend to help her in her personal life, so as long as that’s taken care of, the rest is puppy dogs and unicorns.

And on the other side of the city lies Jake, played by John Cusack. He builds rowing canoes for a living and sells one once every few months (because it’s important to set up a sequence toward the end where a boat might be used). He has also been recently dumped and has his friend Charlie (Ben Shenkman) who insists he get out and find another woman. Of course, it never occurs to anyone that maybe building and selling a boat once in a while can’t actually pay for an apartment like the one he has, but never mind. As long as Cusack spends a good portion of the movie wallowing in heartbroken self-pity, the rest is puppy dogs and rainbows (but at least he does it well).

The two inevitably meet via an internet dating service. They decide to meet in a dog park. They each bring a dog. They hit it off. They have dates. She has another interested suitor, a single father played by Dermot Mulroney (because there needs to be a threat to the relationship and a revelation that he might be too good to be true, etc.). Meanwhile, Sarah’s widowed father (a wistful Christopher Plummer, trying a little too hard for a sympathy Oscar), pals around with Dolly, a brash loud-mouth played by Stockard Channing.

There’s really no reason for you to go through all this again. Cusack does what he can to salvage it and Lane is always nice to have on screen, but their chemistry seems too limited to rise above the conventional material. So, like 95% of rom-coms out there, it aims to please the “Big Fat Greek Wedding” crowd and not much more. I guess some people need the fantasy for a couple hours a week, but as a recently dumped American male, I can honestly say I would rather curl up with a movie that knew what it was really like to have your heart broken. Those movies become best friends. Almost like dogs.

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