The title speaks volumes about what audiences can expect from this vapid formulaic romantic comedy that’s about as punishing as watching a Hillary Duff movie all the way through. John Cusack and Diane Lane work strictly for paychecks in paste-up roles that reflect poorly on the comparable romantic rolls each has played in the past.
You’d think being single was the worst thing in the world based on the way John (Cusack) and Sarah’s (Lane) friends and family treat them while pushing the disconsolate people into posting and responding to internet singles ads. Based on Claire Cook’s book of the same title, director Gary David Goldberg (TV’s Family Ties) lacquers the movie with heavy-handed music tracks like he’s spreading five pounds of peanut butter on a half slice of bread. Christopher Plummer sullies his career as Sarah’s widowed father Bill Nolan.
John Cusack (Serendipity) seems doomed to forever repeat his teenaged performance from Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (1989) as an all-too-romantically inclined guy desperate to make an impression on the nearest half-willing, rather than fully-willing, woman around. Contributing to Cusack’s typecasting is the pervasive “sensitive guy” myth that’s still being floated around by sugary writers like Claire Cook who lack the slightest inkling about the male and female romantic paradigm as it fits into nature’s food chain. All women in the myth must conversely be maternal, as we find with Sarah who works as a doting preschool teacher always ready with “emergency pants” when an accident occurs with one of her small students.
The crux of the film’s dubious qualities can be summed up in John’s crisis decision to cut in half one the teakwood rowboats, that he’s crafted by hand, in order to satisfy a buyer who wants to hang the vivisected vessel up on his wall as an object d’art. John is purportedly a guy whose unusual occupation is lovingly building outdated racing rowboats that represent his passion, beliefs, ethics and desires.
But when he thinks his heart’s been stepped on one time too many, John breaks character and negates his personality entirely. For a guy who watches Dr. Zhivago like some guys watch baseball games the switch says more about the state of author Claire Cook’s self esteem than it fulfills any cogent narrative thread of logic.
There are plenty of insignificant haphazard scenes tossed into Must Love Dogs that seem designed to ensure the movie will offend any random audience member on a number of levels. When Sarah unknowingly answers her own father’s personal ad, we’re subjected to an idiotic luncheon date scene between father and daughter that even the editing room floor would have been too good for.
Dermot Mulroney (The Wedding Date) stinks up the screen as Bob Connor (read “con her”), a smarmy recently separated single father of one of Sarah’s students, who works his womanizing magic from the plush of his trailer home. Coincidentally, Bob’s trashy abode is a stone’s throw from Dolly (Stockard Channing) the newfound object of Sarah’s father’s affection.
The lack of character compatibility competes furiously with the oil-and-water screen chemistry of every pairing that occurs in the movie. Sarah falls for Bob’s toothy line of flirtation and enjoys her only sexual release in the story with him. Even though Bob’s character is set up as a decoy plot obstacle for Sarah to overcome, his goopy brand of insincerity aligns perfectly with Sarah’s pretentious demeanor. Even the dog subplot is a ruse since neither John nor Sarah owns a dog. Must Love Dogs is one movie you don’t need to ever see unless you’re very attracted to cinematic hay. MTW