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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Hooking Up Is Hard To Do
by Betty Jo Tucker

It’s a jungle out there -- in today's dating world, that is. At least all my single friends tell me so. Must Love Dogs, an engaging romantic comedy starring Diane Lane and John Cusack, highlights the obstacles that must be overcome to find a soul mate these days. “We wanted to explore one woman’s search for love in an increasingly frantic world,” explains director/screenwriter Gary David Goldberg.

I applaud Goldberg (Bye Bye Love) for consulting relationship expert Susan Page, who wrote the perceptive “If I’m So Wonderful Why Am I Still Single,” to find out what’s going on with singles nowadays. “Susan draws a comparison between people looking for love today and people who were looking for jobs in the Great Depression,” Goldberg states. “The traditional ways of meeting people have broken down. There isn’t the community that used to exist. Instead, there’s this whole new sense of community on the Internet but it’s still an alien world to many of us.”

The Internet plays a key role in Must Love Dogs. Because Sarah (Lane) has been moping too much after her divorce, her older sister (Elizabeth Perkins) puts her profile on an Internet site called Included in Sarah’s profile are such characteristics as “voluptuous” and “sensuous” as well as this requirement for anyone responding to her ad: “must love dogs.” Ironically, Sarah doesn’t even have a dog, so when she meets her dates, she’s forced  to borrow Mother Teresa, her brother’s friendly Newfoundland.

Speaking of those dates, what a riot some of them are -- one man wants to arm wrestle continuously, another weeps uncontrollably, and  the worst one greets Sarah with, “I thought you’d be younger.” All this happens after she’s already been humiliated by answering her widowed father’s (Christopher Plummer) ad -- a story, Sarah fears, that will be "told forever at family holiday dinners."       

It’s a good thing Jake (Cusack) shows up. His best friend (Ben Shenkman) responds to Sarah’s profile for him and arranges a meeting between the two. However, Jake might be a bit too intense for Sarah. Also recently divorced, he’s looking for an epic romance like Dr. Zhivago, and she’s not ready for that kind of relationship. Besides, another prospect looks attractive to her -- Bob (Dermot Mulroney), the handsome father of one of her pre-school students.

Although watchable performances abound here from such fine actors as Cusack, Perkins, Mulroney, Shenkman, Plummer and Stockard Channing (in a flamboyant turn as one of Plummer’s women friends), it’s Lane (Under the Tuscan Sun) who tops them all with her impeccable timing, flair for comedy, and remarkable ability to seem so genuine -- no matter what her character is going though at any given time. Goldberg describes Lane’s acting as “playing in the real of heightened reality while never leaving the ground.” I agree; Lane is one of the four best actresses in films today. Like Annette Bening, Cate Blanchett and Susan Sarandon, she’s honed her craft to perfection. 

Cusack (Serendipity), who also does both comedy and drama with equal aplomb, captures the essence of the literate, emotionally oriented and straightforward Jake. He makes us believe this man’s passion for in-depth conversations and meaningful relationships.

For any movie romance to be successful, the chemistry between the two leads must be strong. (Think Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp in Chocolat , Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year, or, more recently, Amanda Peet and Ashton Kutcher in A Lot Like Love .) Fortunately, Lane and Cusack pass this important test with flying colors. The way they look at each other, or even the way they look away from each other, speaks volumes about their characters’ mutual attraction. Oh, how we want these two walking wounded to end up together!

Adapted from Claire Cook’s popular novel of the same name, Goldberg's low-key Must Love Dogs is filled with amusing situations, witty dialogue, likable characters and tender moments. If you’re an incurable romantic like me, don’t miss this one.          

(Released by Warner Bros. and rated “PG-13” for sexual content.)

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