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"Dogs" isn't best of show, just awfully cute
Seattle Times movie critic
The romantic comedy "Must Love Dogs," about two divorced people looking for love, is female fantasy writ large, and on that level it's often enjoyable, sometimes to a shameless degree. I hadn't realized, for example, that I've been waiting my entire moviegoing life for a scene in which two attractive heterosexual men sit in an exquisitely decorated loft and get all sniffly, quite sincerely, while watching "Dr. Zhivago." (Well, only one of them gets sniffly, but it's John Cusack, he of the infamous boom-box serenade scene in "Say Anything," so it's worth extra points.)
Also winning high marks on the fantasy scale is the enchanting Craftsman home of our heroine, Sarah (Diane Lane), filled to bursting with patchwork quilts, Fiestaware, floral prints and cute flannel pajamas. Never mentioned is the fact that Sarah must have gotten the house during her nasty divorce, as such commodious quarters are rarely obtained on a preschool teacher's salary. Meanwhile, Jake (Cusack) must have acquired that fabulous loft through some nefarious means, as his career consists of making lovingly handcrafted wooden boats that nobody ever wants to buy.
But reality is not the point of "Must Love Dogs," a mere twinkle of a movie that does everything a romantic comedy is supposed to do but brings little new to the mix. Lane and Cusack are both performers of great charm — Lane's fed-up delivery, to a supermarket butcher, of the line, "I don't want a bunch of chicken hanging around!" is almost worth the ticket price right there. But Cusack's character is a yuppie cousin of the record-shop owner he played in "High Fidelity"; while hers is a virtual clone of her "Under the Tuscan Sun" divorcée. We've met these people before, and they hold no surprises.
Writer/director Gary David Goldberg (working from a novel by Claire Cook) surrounds the pair with cuteness: her large Irish family, headed by paterfamilias Christopher Plummer; his standard-issue best buddy; her adorable charges at the preschool, all of whom say extra-cute things while staring fixedly at the camera; and a big Newfoundland named Mother Teresa, who gives a subtle and endearing performance. There's a bit of suspense introduced by a newly single father at the preschool (Dermot Mulroney) who has designs on Sarah — and yes, ladies, life is tough when you have to choose between Dermot Mulroney and John Cusack. But all ends in true "When Harry Met Sally... " style, right down to the face-the-camera interview vignettes over the end credits.
It's no accident that "Must Love Dogs" is playing this weekend against "Stealth," perhaps the summer's most testosterone-laden movie — it's a deliberate grab for the female audience, particularly over-30 females who like dogs, Cusack and "Dr. Zhivago." Despite the charming cast, "Must Love Dogs" isn't anywhere near as good as you want it to be: The characters tend to make speeches instead of actually talking to each other, and Goldberg flattens out the story by making everyone blandly likable.
But for those charmed by the idea of Christopher Plummer reciting a Yeats poem, or Cusack describing Lane as "a vivid grammar of eroticism" or something like that, or a romantic final scene on a picture-perfect lake, with the dog looking on — well, as fantasies go, you could do a lot worse.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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