Writer-director Gary David Goldberg pulls out all the "chick" clichÃs in Must Love Dogs, an adaptation of Claire Cook's book about a newly divorced preschool teacher named Sarah (Diane Lane) who tries Internet dating. The film strives for single-lady, "you said it, sister" boosterism. We're supposed to want to go rah-rah for our hapless heroine as she tries, and mostly fails, to get back in the game.
But it's hard to cheer for a film that wears a slight sneer when it comes to its leading lady. Sarah's sprawling Irish family (led by patriarch Christopher Plummer) treats her like a freak, a basket case or a punchline. Her adventures in cyberdating produce one humiliation after another. And the neighborhood butcher looks on her with contempt, because she's only buying for one, and then with fear when she gives him a much-deserved dressing-down. The icing on the cake? The butcher whispering "praise be" when Sarah finally lands a man ' one less crazy divorced lady to deal with!
And indeed Sarah does find a man, John Cusack's brokenhearted boat-builder. Cusack's part is a bore, but at least it doesn't demand indignity. That honor's reserved for Lane, a luminous actress who's forced to dowdy herself down. She's played a lonelyheart before, in Under the Tuscan Sun, but there the desperation and despair felt legitimate ' and legitimately moving. Here, pain is just the necessary preamble to getting a man, to getting "fixed."
They say rah-rah, I say retch. No film that requires a woman to jump in water and dogpaddle toward a man has the "sisterhood's" best interests at heart.