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Movie Review

Sarah has suddenly become “available” after her husband of many years asked for a divorce, apparently out of the blue. To say she’s shell-shocked would be an understatement. Compounding her disorientation are her friends and large family, who are already trying to hook her up with new men almost before the ink on the divorce papers is dry. Without her knowing, Sarah’s sister signs her up with an Internet matchmaking service, including this important caveat for potential dates: “Must love dogs.” In truth, Sarah doesn’t own a dog, so it’s a strange touch that will have repercussions later in the story.

After a series of disastrous dates, Sarah’s ready to bag the whole going-out thing. That’s when she meets Bob, the father of one of her preschool students. He’s handsome, funny—and also divorced. About the same time, one of her Internet dates, Jake, turns out to be not a total disaster. (The fact that each brings a borrowed dog to the first date sets off alarm bells, though.) Sarah finds herself torn between two men who appear to be good “catches,” although she needs to learn a hard lesson or two before she’s able to figure out which one is Mr. Right.

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Positive Elements

Sarah’s dad, Bill, a widower after 45 years of marriage, gives a compelling speech about the power of lifelong commitment and the importance of marital fidelity. Indirectly, the twists and turns of Sarah’s dating journey, and the painful revelations she receives along the way, are themselves powerful testimony to the damage and heartache that ripple outward from a single act of betrayal. Before being surprised by divorce papers, Sarah was apparently willing to work through any problems in her marriage. When her sister objects, “But you weren’t happy,” Sarah responds, “That’s the life I’d picked, so I’d live with it.”

Spiritual Content

Sarah is told that a response to her Internet ad is “a sign from heaven.” Her large family are Irish-American Roman Catholics, and one scene is set at a nephew’s Confirmation party.

Sexual Content

The creators of Must Love Dogs simply assume that consenting, unmarried adults hop in and out of the sack with one another all the time. They also assume that most adults are obsessed with sex. And their film repeats a central conceit of the movie American Beauty, namely that the only stable, “normal” couple in this story consists of two homosexual men.

After a date, Sarah and Jake burst into her bedroom and fall on the bed while kissing passionately. Their passion is momentarily broken when they realize neither one has a condom, which sets off a citywide search for prophylactics. (Once they’re found, Sarah is no longer in the mood.) Later, Sarah is seen waking up in bed with one of her dates.

Jake’s lawyer (and best friend) tries to console him with this bit of information: “We all wanted to sleep with [your wife],” and she apparently was willing to oblige. He also tells Jake that now that he’s divorced, he can get “righteously banged” every night. He tries to hook Jake up with a woman at his law firm, saying she’d slept with half the men in the office. He also takes Jake to a strip club, and we see a dancer stripped down to her bra. (To his credit, Jake declines a woman’s proposition to come up to her apartment.) Sarah’s sister, Carol, says of the Internet dating service, “Everyone here is trying to get laid.” During a sequence that features "dating videos," a woman suggests meeting men at a Home Depot so you can say you want to get “nailed.”

Sarah wears a few low-cut outfits and on one date wears a dress so skimpy she might as well not be wearing a top at all. Her sister tells her to wear shirts that show off her breasts. We see Sarah in the shower with her bare back exposed.

Violent Content

Jake drives recklessly while on a frantic search for a store that sells condoms.

Crude or Profane Language

One use each of the s-word, “bastard” and “h---.” Two uses each of “a--“ and “d--n“ (combined once with God). God’s name is interjected about five times. There's a crude term used to reference women’s breasts.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Sarah’s brother comes to her house while very drunk and carrying a beer bottle. Several scenes are set in restaurants with characters drinking wine. Sarah and Jake toast with champagne. Jake frequently has a beer bottle in hand while watching TV.

Other Negative Elements

Originally upset that her sister posted lies on an Internet dating site, Sarah gets over her outrage and starts to post lies of her own.

Conclusion

Watching Must Love Dogs is like eating candy Pop Rocks—there’s a bit of fizz, but it leaves no lasting impression. Director Gary David Goldberg adapted the screenplay from a novel by Claire Cook, and his many years of writing TV sitcoms (Spin City, Family Ties, Lou Grant) shows in this film: allegedly funny lines followed by silence so the audience can laugh.

In truth, I found very little to laugh at. Instead of a romantic comedy (a fairly predictable one at that) I found it to be, while not quite a tragedy, certainly a downer. The pain that these characters put themselves through in pursuit of something so ephemeral—a romanticized ideal of heart-fluttering “love”—almost makes you wince in places. If only they’d spent more time contrasting the true love embodied in Bill’s 45-year marriage with all the surrounding fluff, this wouldn’t be such a dog of a movie.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Diane Lane as Sarah; John Cusack as Jake; Elizabeth Perkins as Carol; Christopher Plummer as Bill; Dermot Mulroney as Bob; Stockard Channing as Dolly

Director

Gary David Goldberg ( )

Distributor

Warner Bros.

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Tom Neven

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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