I have come to believe that romantic comedies are set in an alternate universe where the laws of probability no longer apply. These laws are skewed such that it is almost certain that the protagonist will run into exactly the right person at the right time, or exactly the wrong person at the right time. With a two-hour time constraint, there can be no gray area. Some movies do a great job of concealing this alternate universe of improbabilities with very clever plot twists. Some don’t, as is the case with Must Love Dogs.
Jake and Sarah (John Cusak and Diane Lane) are two recently divorced inhabitants of this alternate universe who meet up through an Internet ad. The movie is basically the description of what Sarah goes through and the men she meets/dates once she places the ad, until, inevitibly, she settles on Jake. This is not a spoiler, as the two are featured in every promo, every still, and every trailer. Bob (Dermot Mulroney) enters as another contender for Sarah’s affection, end throughout the movie, it is obvious that when the doorbell rings, it will be Bob when Sarah was expecting Jake, or vice versa. In addition to being the parent of one of Sarah’s students, Bob just happens to live next to Sarah’s father’s (Christopher Plummer) girlfriend (Stockard Channing). Only in the movies, as the saying goes.
The one thing this movie does have going for it is a very strong cast. Cusak and Lane work together very well, and Elizabeth Perkins plays Lane’s annoying sister who initiates the Internet campaign. Plummer does his best father figure, although, when he started quoting poetry, I immediately had an image of him as a Klingon quoting Shakespeare in Star Trek VI as he fired photon torpedoes at the Enterprise. I guess I was desparate. Stockard Channing is delightful as Plummer’s trailer park girlfriend. Without the excellent acting abilities and comedic timing of this ensemble, the movie really would have had little going for it.
Final comments – If one has not figured out by now, this has "chick flick" written all over it. There are no weapons, explosions, or even suspense, and the worst act of violence and only scene with blood occurs between two pre-schoolers. I like Cusack and Lane, and I don’t have to have a chase scene in order to enjoy a movie, and can enjoy a romantic comedy if it’s well written. That being said, I was one of five men in a theater full of mostly 50-something women. I was OK with this, until the collective audience started sighing at key points. One final note – for some reason, the actors start singing the theme from the Partridge Family. Dermot Mulroney’s character turns to a Hammond B3 organ and starts playing, but the sound of an acoustic piano comes out. I guess this just cemented my alternate universe theory.