A review of “Must Love Dogs” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for adult situations and some language

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

 

 

Strong performances just barely rescue Dogs from totally succumbing to a tired formula and cliché-driven plot.

Diane Lane is unlucky in love again (Unfaithful, Under the Tuscan Sun) as early forty-something divorcee Sarah Nolan whose husband has unexpectedly though not surprisingly fallen for a younger woman.

Sarah’s large Irish family will have none of her self-imposed sulking, unwilling to let her dry up in the name of love by staging a caring intervention complete with hunky photos of available and semi-available men.

Naturally Sarah isn’t ready to commit (sigh), but she unwittingly buys into the concept of cyber-dating when her sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) launches a personal profile on PerfectMatch.com without her permission.

The typically disastrous (and mildly amusing) blind dates ensue; misogynists, egoists, serial criers and the like.  One of the more promising outings is with handsome but intense boat-builder Jake (John Cusack) with whom Sarah sparks through a rather predictable comedy of errors.

Dog’s flaws are patently obvious and they aren’t pretty.  Dialogue too flip and practiced, awkward plot transitions (Sarah takes control!), and a surplus of cute dog and kid moments.  Add a truckload of romantic comedy clichés (wise-cracking older sis, spontaneous sing-along) and a dopey climax and you get the picture.

Or do you? Buried amongst the standard chestnuts is a fluttering heart beating with the thrill of the chase and a delicious what-if-ness.  Lane understands her material (having been there, done that) and makes the most of her moments in the sun, offering up a weary resignation that segues into a genuine desire for mid-life passion and a startling inability to choose wisely.

Cusack is a dream, a reluctant romantic who dumbs down his gig while maintaining the unconventional edge we’ve learned to love.  Dermot Mulroney steps in as a charming Mr. Right who could be all wrong.

Best of show goes to late-night foraging for synthetic protection and a couple of well-executed amorous mix-ups.  Fun but familiar.