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Film review

Slip the 'chic flick' collar

Sure, Must Love Dogs is a romantic comedy, but it's witty and engaging, with occasional bitter touches - a nonsaccharine film both genders can enjoy.

Published July 28, 2005

[Photo: Warner Bros.
John Cusack, left, and Diane Lane play a couple who meet on the Internet in Must Love Dogs, a romantic comedy that warms without overheating.

Probably a sizable number of men will dismiss Must Love Dogs because they perceive it as a "chick flick."

The perception isn't inaccurate. It's a light, romantic movie about a divorced woman whose bubbly sisters help her in her quest for true love.

The idealized man here is an artist-philosopher who watches Dr. Zhivago almost daily and recoils at the thought of having casual sex with a gorgeous young woman.

Even so, there's plenty for both men and women to appreciate about Must Love Dogs. It's witty and wonderfully acted, it bypasses most of the cliches of romantic comedy, and it avoids sappiness until the penultimate scene.

And, in fact, it provides men with a very inviting fantasy: For an hour and a half, it allows us to believe that sophisticated, spirited women who look like Diane Lane sit at home every night desperately trying to figure out how to meet guys just like us.

Lane, as charming as ever, plays a preschool teacher trying to rebound after being dumped by her husband. She gets ample assistance from her large and hyper-functional family, which includes dad Christopher Plummer and sis Elizabeth Perkins.

Meanwhile, somewhere across town, John Cusack's Jake is a boat-builder, also recently divorced. He's sharp-witted, sardonic and sensitive, and so ethical that he insists on handcrafting beautiful but impractical sculls, even though it means he can't earn a living.

Cusack and Lane both turn reluctantly to mildly misleading internet ads to try to meet people. One of Lane's ads contains the line that serves as the film's title, so for their first meeting both she and Cusack borrow their friends' dogs. The meat of the film consists of the ebb and flow of their burgeoning relationship, from a fumbling first date, through passionate but interrupted subsequent meetings and chance encounters at unfortunate times.

It's familiar stuff, but handled with aplomb by writer/director Gary David Goldberg (creator of TV's Family Ties and Spin City) and Claire Cook, who wrote the novel on which the film is based. The characters are engaging, the dialogue is generally sharp and occasionally very funny, and there's just enough sentimentality to be sweet, not saccharine.

In fact, one of the most effective elements is the way Goldberg alternates the sweet and bitter flavors of the film so that they temper each other and neither becomes overpowering.

A huge factor in the film's success is the cast: Lane is magnetic, Cusack's blank-faced charm has never seemed more appropriate, and the chemistry between them is ideal.

There's chemistry to spare in every relationship in the film, especially in the scenes between Lane and Dermot Mulroney (as a temporary love interest) and between Lane and Stockard Channing (as a feisty divorcee who dates Plummer).

Slight and cute, but also intelligent and well-crafted, Must Love Dogs is the kind of film that could give romantic comedies a good name.

Must Love Dogs

Grade: B+

Director: Gary David Goldberg

Writers: Gary David Goldberg, Claire Cook

Cast: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney, Stockard Channing

Running time: 100 min.

Rating: PG-13; sexual content

[Last modified July 27, 2005, 09:54:07]

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