In the whitest neighborhood in America, a fortysomething divorcee and preschool teacher, Sarah (Diane Lane), is the unofficial star of an ongoing edition of The Dating Game hosted by her entire immediate family. After suffering a string of fools she meets through online dating services that boast layouts, upload times, and connection speeds far more advanced than anything you can currently experience on, say, the site of the movie’s most prominent sponsor, Perfectmatch.com, Sarah must choose between Guy #1 (“He’s an average looking boat builder who may come on strong but loves pooches, cuddling, and laying on the charm”) and Guy #2 (“He’s a dad who likes women more than he likes dogs, but he has a crookedly handsome smile and an irresistible bubble butt”). Hollywood has made this movie before, but not having seen a single one besides Doctor Zhivago, the David Lean classic that plays on perpetual loop in the town’s televisions and movie theaters, Sarah must discover all by her lonesome to distinguish between The Nice Guy Who Acts Mean (John Cusack) and the Mean Guy Who Acts Nice (Dermot Mulroney). When she picks the wrong one, it’s a night of rape-crying in the shower, but since a movie like this wouldn’t exist without second chances, it’s only a matter of time before she picks the man behind the right door.
Confusing conviction for pandering, Must Love Dogs exists to appeal to a female demographic it perceives to be burnt out from fending off their biological clocks and all that bad advice from Cosmopolitan. Transparent to the core, this total sham is not only seriously out of touch with the way women (and families) behave in the real world, but it also dares to play its sitcom triteness for progressiveness: Every character functions as a lifeless quota, namely Sarah’s friend Leo (Brad William Henke), a dickless queen who plays the soundboard to his hag and whose dreamy boyfriend’s deliberately drawn-out arrival is played for awful suspense and disappointment (women in the crowd are encouraged to think of him as a total waste of manmeat). Lane and Cusack share a nice scene together at some “exotic” restaurant they go slumming at, but these actors are too good for a movie this ingratiating, which not only underscores Lane’s entire range of emotions (from Abject Depression to Zealous Self-Pitying) with some irritating pop ditty but sells women contemptuously short from beginning to end. To paraphrase some hackerish blurb I just heard on the shill-y E! network: Must Love Dogs is in the doghouse.