MUST LOVE DOGS written and directed by Gary David Goldberg, with Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer and Stockard Channing. A Warner Bros. release. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (July 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 97. Rating: N
Before seeing Must Love Dogs, I was convinced that Diane Lane had the potential to be the decade's new romantic comedy heroine: the thinking person's Meg Ryan.
In that glorified Tourism Italy ad called Under The Tuscan Sun, she made experience seem sexy. Divorced and hurt, she refused to fall for the cheesy pickup line. She would find love - if she found it at all - on her own terms. You go, woman!
Consider her lips. They're not bee-stung. I doubt there's collagen in them. They're sharp and flinty. It takes a lot to make them part for a smile, and when they do you're not sure if it's genuine. She's cautious.
Lane sure wasn't cautious with the script for Must Love Dogs, which threatens to kill the genre in one cliché-ridden swoop.
She plays another divorcee, Sarah, whose husband left her for a younger woman. Now, eight months later, her sprawling Irish-American family is trying to get her out into the dating pool. One sibling (Elizabeth Perkins in a role made for Bonnie Hunt) even sets up an online profile for her, complete with the line about loving dogs.
And so Sarah goes off on a quest to find Mr. Next. Cue bad date montage. Cue initially awkward meeting with John Cusack's Jake, a boat builder who also loves dogs. Cue her attraction to the hot dad (the perma-sneering Dermot Mulroney) of one of her students - oh yeah, she's a preschool teacher.
The dogs, by the way, are essentially props. We barely learn their names, let alone see them in any key scene. Sarah has more interaction with the local butcher who sells her poultry than she has with her canines. Maybe the film should be called Must Love Chicken. Better yet, Turkey.
Writer/director Gary David Goldberg is best known for 80s TV fave Family Ties, and he still seems stuck in that era. A scene where Sarah and Jake are scouring the city's drugstores looking for condoms is pure sitcom. Speaking of cities, what city are we in?
The script's way of letting us know that Diane is interested in a man is to have her let her hair down. Goldberg's way of letting us know something poignant is going to be revealed is to give us tinkly piano music in the background.
Even the worst romantic comedies have some charming moments, but this has nothing except Lane getting dolled up for one disastrous date after another. No one has any personality. The leads have no motivation.
Oh, we do get Christopher Plummer as the Oirish patriarch with a penchant for Yeats.
The only indication that we've moved past the 80s comes with Sarah's ideal couple - the now-clichéd trope of her fabulous gay pals. But Goldberg even gets that wrong: what self-respecting gay friend would ever wear pleats?