Must Love Dogs (2005) ***
Directed by Gary David Goldberg. Written by Mr. Goldberg from novel by Claire Cook. Photography, John Bailey. Music, Craig Armstrong. Producers, Mr. Goldberg, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd. Cast: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Dermot Mulroney, Stockard Channing, Ali Hills. Released by Warner Bros. 90 minutes. PG-13
Not a major movie yet a pleasure in it own right – a romance that's original insofar as it deals, centrally, with people well over the state and age of bimboism –for women—and whatever the equivalent is for men.
Here the stars are Diane Lane and John Cusack, both 40 or so. Like many cinephiles I am a major fan of her and of him. In my book, Cusack is a magic name. It applies to the tribe of Chicago Cusacks, notably to John's irresistible sister Joan Cusack. And then there was Cyril Cusack (1910-93) --no relation but a great contributor to the name-- that terrific Irish stage-and-screen, international player (109 movies, etc.)
Diane Lane (b.1965) is another gem of the screen. Like many viewers I saw her in her debut, the great George Roy Hill's "A Little Romance" (1979) about two schoolkids in Paris, the American Lane and a French boy, and a wise, original mentor played by Sir Laurence Olivier. (Consider this is a plug for renting that movie!)
Ms. Lane has been in almost fifty films since then. She has many admirers and but I don't think she has been a major star. Why? My educated guess is that her movies, including some really good ones, have not been within the film genres that attract the hoi poloi.
Recently, however, "Under the Tuscan Sun" (2003) and certainly "Unfaithful" (2002, directed by Adrian Lyne and co-starring Richard Gere) -- called long-overdue attention to Lane's fine acting. "Unfaithful" is a remake of Claude Chabrol's 1969 French film "The Unfaithful Wife." The Lyne version lacks Chabrol's nuances, subtleties and "Hitchcockianisms," but Lane's performance is great.
In "Must Love Dogs," 4O-year old Lane will make many a filmgoer declare that "the older she gets the more beautiful she is." It helps that no matter the story-line, the focus is steadily on Lane.
She plays a recent divorcee whom one of her three sisters tries to pair off with an ideal new male, via messages on the Internet. "Cute" --in the best sense—is the operative term for the story's developments and for the supporting characters. However, the overall structure meanders at times much and gets flabby.
It comes as no surprise to viewers that the same-age John Cusack is the ideal man for Lane. He's divorced; he is an idealist in his profession, the boat-building of racing sculls, in wood –the right stuff—and not in metal –the wrong, commercial material. In other words, Cusack is a Luddite in spirit, not a crassly modern fellow.
Lane is surrounded by friends, admirers, and well-meaning family members. The latter include her elegant father, charmingly played by Christopher Plummer. He is a widower who recites Yates, shaves years off his real age, needs –understandably-- a ladylove. Mind you, marching with the times, he already has an odd relationship with another love-seeking single, colorful Stockard Channing. She is 60-plus going on 40.
Both Plummer and Channing work the Internet for mate-searching. I won't reveal here the genuinely funny and wild procedures and developments of the process. Let me also skip particulars, events and details, especially since knowing them is no service to the movie and its audiences. That Lane and Cusack can and will make a great couple is a foregone conclusion. Intrusions by other characters stretch out the picture. Dogs will play small parts. And such.
I will reveal only a hilarious sequence. There is a sudden decision of the Lane-Cusack new twosome to have sex. Their timing is all wrong: neither partner-to-be carries a condom-- so that there follows a hysterical (in every sense) car-ride in search of the thing at a late hour when all drugstores are closed. That's unlikely given today's round-the-clock open places, but it does reach a hilarious slapstick level.
The movie's loose construction sets it apart from other films and, in my case, originally cost its rating half a star. But this has changed upon reflection. I have decided to watch it again and have upped its grade. F.y.i the great majority of reviews rate it lower than I do.