The casting is at worst questionable and at best usually tolerable so there's probably more than a few reasons why two traditionally strong actors find themselves in the midst of a few mediocre hours of romantic comedy. As is the case with many mis-cast films, Must Love Dogs has a handful of slightly entertaining moments, one or two genuinely moving scenes, and a boatload of character interaction that could hardly be considered impressive. Utilizing the already tiresome platform of internet dating, the film plods along in familiar fashion as two people who use online dating as a last resort find an absolutely perfect mate.|
Amazingly, this premise has only been used a handful of times and the internet itself is still a rather recent entity. You've Got Mail seems to be the benchmark as far as internet dating stories are concerned and that film's success was due much more to the screenwriter and the casting than to the inclusion of the internet into the story. Must Love Dogs is quite unfortunate in that its screenplay is usually abysmal and the casting just doesn't quite hit the mark. It's difficult to brand Diane Lane and John Cusack as weak performers, but neither actor is able to prop up this extremely poorly plotted story.
Even the large amount of improvisation from Cusack doesn't seem to do the picture any good since it's patently obvious when Cusack is reciting the tired dialogue from the script and when he's saying something he made up himself. Lane fares much worse as she seems to have access to no other dialogue than the words presented to her in the script. And these two gifted actors' problems are only compounded by the fact that they don't really have any chemistry with one another. Even if the dialogue had been sparkling and fresh and the plot had zinged along at lightning pace, the entire point of a romantic comedy is that the romance is romantic and the comedy is funny.
And while there are a few laughable moments in the film (usually courtesy of Cusack's personally created dialogue), the romance is impressively flat. And delving further into this film's emotional limp, the movie also suffers from a lack of tangible conflict, completing a devastating trio of inadequacy: the romance, the comedy, and the general dramatics of the plot are far too softly spoken and unimpressive. It's probably not worth placing the blame on any one aspect of the film as no part of it could really be classified as "bad." It's just that no single element of the film could be considered very good either.
Regarding the visual portions of the film, there was doubtless much emphasis on clothing the entire cast in the boring earth-tones of a J. Crew catalog. Everyone's dressed neatly and cleanly and looks as if he or she just stepped out of the pages of mail order with not a thread out of place or anything more daring than a yellow spotted necktie. Far from being an ugly part of the film, the wardrobe choices are just further evidence that too much of this film is an unimpressive shade of brown, burgundy, or dirt. Although the clothing brands the characters as well dressed, it certainly doesn't make them an interesting group of people.
Additionally, the musical score, though suitably composed, is predictably thrust into the foreground during whatever scenes the filmmakers have deemed worthy of additional emotional accompaniment. If the audience is supposed to be laughing, the music nudges the viewer in that direction. If there's romance to be had, you can bet the violins will start weeping. There is far too much obvious manipulation regarding the use of musical score to push the audience in one emotional direction or the other.
In other casting decisions, the filmmakers have done a suitable job in choosing supporting actors though Elizabeth Perkins (playing Lane's sister), Christopher Plummer (the father), Dermot Mulroney (a rival love interest), and even Stockard Channing have very few interesting things to say. Unfortunately, about ninety-five percent of this film's most entertaining moments comes during one chaotic scene during which Diane Lane and John Cusack search frantically for a store that sells condoms. Trust the only low-brow scene in the film to be the one with the greatest comedic value. Perhaps if the entire film included the same kinetic energy and sense of comic enthusiasm, experiencing it on the big screen would seem so dull.
Must Love Dogs is a film that rests in that gray area of mediocrity where no one part of it could rightly be labeled unwatchable, but neither could any part of it become a lively topic by the water cooler. Every part of the film, whether it is the acting, the screenplay or the wardrobe, could have seen at least some improvement. It's as if the filmmakers attempted to create a romantic comedy that would appeal to the greatest possible audience, but instead ended up with a film too bland and too quiet to warrant much notice.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.