Dir:Gary David Goldberg. US. 2005. 9s7mins.
With itscyber-dating-driven plot and plays on modern romantic mores, Must Love Dogssets itself up as a contemporary take on the time-honoured search for love.Deep down, though, this resolutely lightweight romantic comedy is just tootradition-bound and familiar seeming to be very effective. It is only perked upby agreeable performances from leads Diane Lane and John Cusack and a strongsupporting cast.
Older,predominantly female moviegoers will be the core audience when Columbia givesthe Team Todd production a wide release in the US this weekend. Facing littledirect competition in the late summer marketplace, the film might manage amid-level theatrical gross, but the prospects seem better for a DVD launch laterin the year.
Winningover international audiences will be tricky (the film opens in some majorterritories through August and September): even the stars' most successfulrecent rom-com outings - Lane's Under The Tuscan Sun and Cusack's America'sSweethearts - have performed only moderately outside the US.
Thetale of lovelorn thirtysomethings is based on a hit 2002 novel by Americanwriter Claire Cook. Lane's Sarah is a pre-school teacher who, eight miserablemonths after her divorce, is being pushed by her loving Irish family to getback into the dating game. When one of her sisters secretly posts Sarah'sprofile on perfectmatch.com - a real life "relationship site" thatgets plenty of exposure in the movie - she reluctantly agrees to try her luckwith some of the resulting cyber-suitors.
Mostof the dates are comically disastrous, but a meeting with awkward yet charmingboat builder Jake (Cusack) gets Sarah intrigued. Trouble is, Sarah is alsobeginning to fall for Bob (Mulroney, from My Best Friend's Wedding), therecently separated dad of one of her pupils.
Directorand scriptwriter Gary David Goldberg (best known for Michael J Fox sitcom FamilyTies) lets the story unfold with a very even pace and a gently humoroustone. It's pleasant enough to watch, but there's nothing to offset thepredictability of the plot and the familiarity of the incidental elements (cutedogs are not too prevalent, but there are cute kids, a loveable patriarch and a recitation of a classic love poem).
Thecomedy produces some smiles but not many real laughs (even a late-night condomhunt ends up feeling restrained and respectable). And the dialogue only getsmemorable in a few brief snappy exchanges.
Theromance, meanwhile, feels oddly painless when the lovers are separated and notjoyful enough when they finally get back together.
Aftermaking such an impression (especially internationally) with 2002 drama Unfaithful,Lane gets much less help from the material here and she seems at times to bepushing too hard to amuse. But she does make Sarah a quite believable andappealing character and she has the courage to look the character's age - sheeven dares to use her frown lines as an acting tool.
Cusack- back in the romcom territory he occupied with a string of pictures at thestart of the decade - coasts fairly appealingly as Jake, combining a WoodyAllen intensity with a New Man sensitivity.
Thesupporting cast includes Plummer as Sarah's widowed but still twinkle-eyedfather Bill and an under-used Channing as one of Bill's new girlfriends.
Warner Bros Pictures
Ronald G Smith
Gary David Goldberg
Gary David Goldberg
based on the novel by Claire Cook