I'll watch any romantic comedy. The ones that make it into theaters (Baggage Claim). The ones that air on television (Beauty and the Briefcase). The ones that never really make it to either medium, languishing on DVD or VHS or whatever format we're touting to document things permanently but without notice these days. But for years, the only rom com I wouldn't touch was Must Love Dogs, a 2005 film starring Diane Lane and John Cusack.
Based off the 2002 Claire Cook novel of the same name, Must Love Dogs has all the things I usually require in a romantic comedy: a cast of people trying to be funny while some people pretend to fall in love. In fact, it has more to offer than that basic requirement. The cast features strong actors; Lane and Cusack (the latter is a personal favorite of mine) are joined by Elizabeth Perkins, Christopher Plummer, Stockard Channing and DERMOT MULRONEY. It's also a movie that features slightly older people struggling with second marriages, which isn't an unheard of plot line in Hollywood, but certainly isn't always the norm – or at least it wasn't until Nancy Meyers released Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated in 2003 and 2009, respectively.
No, the thing that was holding me back from Must Love Dogs was the last word in its title: the dog(s). I am, as you may have previously learned, not a pet person. The idea of two lovebirds connecting over their shared infatuation with dogs was actually enough to keep me away from this particular film. (For some reason, this rule didn't apply to The Truth About Cats and Dogs, though I do recall being hesitant to watch that as well.)
But it was 88 degrees outside on this post-Labor Day September night and I don't have air conditioning, so what better way to spend that sleepless evening than watching something I had never had any desire to watch before, I thought to myself. Little did I know the experience would be a slow dive into insanity.
With its opening credits, Must Love Dogs started off promisingly. Oh Christopher Plummer! Oh Stockard Channing! I thought to myself, as my fan whirred and I settled in to my low-thread count knock-off eucalyptus sheets, the glow of the computer providing a heat I didn't need. Shortly after, a sad woman (Diane Lane) named Sarah greets me. She is in her kitchen, surrounded by her family, who are very sad for her, though not about their own lives, which are mostly great. I'm familiar with sad Diane Lane; I just re-watched Under the Tuscan Sun a few weeks ago on a slow Sunday afternoon.
Next, we meet a sad John Cusack (Jake). He's sad not because he has a family to be sad for him but because he is alone (save for his nebbish friend who seems like a sad loser who thinks he is a player) and because he makes wooden boats no one will ever use.
DOG COUNT: 1. Occurs at six minutes into the film. This dog is named MOTHER THERESA.
[♪ ♫ Irish music plays ♪ ♫]
Sad Sarah sadly grocery shops while that insipid cover of "First Cut Is The Deepest" by Sheryl Crowe plays. Transition to: Sad Sarah eating chicken alone in her kitchen.
[Note: also it probably isn't the first cut? She got divorced. The song should really be called "First Divorce Is The Deepest, Until That Second One That Sucks You Dry Of All Your Funds. Yup, It's That Second Divorce That Is Really The Deepest."]
OH HELLO DERMOT. He is the father of one of Sad Sarah's students because Sad Sarah is a Sad Teacher who spends time with other people's kids but not her own because she doesn't have any. Anyway, Dermot is super sexy but is also probably a cad.
Sad Sarah's life gets even sadder: she finds out she has been set up on a blind date with her DAD, Christopher Plummer.
Honestly, she could do worse.
DOG COUNT: 2. "Must love dogs" is mentioned as we find out that Sad Sarah has been signed up by Sassy Sister Elizabeth Perkins for Perfectmatch.com, a website that appears to use voicemails to connect people together. Interesting.
Sad John and Sad Sarah meet at a dog park after using Perfectmatch.com
DOG COUNT: 3. The phrase "must love dogs" is referenced again.
26 minutes in. There is now talking to dogs and Sad Sarah, who has now met Sad John, tells Sad John's borrowed little dog to use its words. There is some banter about how his ex was allergic to dogs! He loves dogs but doesn't own them! Her ex was also allergic! Oh wait JK that was a joke!
The Sad John kind of negs Sad Sarah and says something like, "Your ad doesn't do you justice/rewrite it/I don't want you to because I don't want anyone else to answer it." Also:
Sad John: "Sarah, for the record, you are kind of voluptuous in a minimalist sort of way."
Anyway, time for our palate cleanser aka STOCKARD AND PLUMMER who have found love in a hopeless place aka through the magic of online dating.
Also hellllo Dermot. Back so soon?
I'm starting to think he and Sassy Sister have more of a vibe than he and Sad Sarah do.
Dermot apparently lives near Plummer's new ladyfriend Stockard, which means that they all gather round as a new happy family and sing a rousing version of some Partridge Family song. At this point, I'm trying really hard to follow the plot here, but it's surprisingly difficult. Perhaps the heat is getting to me.
(I should note, however, that Sad Sarah's life gets even sadder because she's always inviting her gay coworker over and he says he and his partner can't.)
Meanwhile, Sad Sarah is still flirting with Dermot...
Dermot: There's an attraction here Sarah. You can't deny it.
Sarah: I'm not.
...but also about to go to dinner with Sad John. At dinner, Sad John says something about hearts expanding etc etc. and they plan to "make love." This plan results in actual minutes of a literal high speed car chase spent to find condoms, which neither have in their possession, a chase I found exhausting.
As you may have predicted, the high speed car chase ruins the moment. Rather, as Sad Sarah explains, "THE MAGIC IS…GONE." Later, she adds to her Sassy Sister – who has inexplicably shown up at her house because apparently her family members don't know how to use a phone –
"I mean how much baba ganoush can you have"
[Note: I haven't added punctuation to this because it's unclear if this question is rhetorical or....what?. My answer to it, if it was being asked seriously is, "A WHOLE LOT."]
Sad John to his loser friend whose name I have learned is Charlie: "Charlie, you should have seen this girl. She's shy, she's fragile, she's self conscious, she has no idea how beautiful she is, she's a mess. It's fantastic."
As my 21-year-old sister would say, YOU SOUND LIKE A CRAY. Luckily, Sad Jon admits that he is "psychotic."
Later, the family is at some sort of party for Sad Sarah's father, who appears to be seeing not only Stockard Channing but other ladies. Sad Sarah's father winks at her.
Who else is really starting to be convinced she should fuck her dad?
DOG COUNT: 4. Dogs.
Next, Stockard teaches Sad Sarah to love the internet or something.
Stockard Channing: I love this internet. It's part fantasy, part community, and you get to pay your bills naked.
DOG COUNT: 5. DOG GUY DERMOT.
Okay so now Sad Sarah and Stockard are friends even though her dad isn't exclusive with Stockard. Then Sad Sarah is just in the neighborhood and drops by Dermot's house. Only guess who's there? HOTTIE YOUNGER TEACHER who works at her school.
"You sure you don't want to come in? We just opened a bottle of wine," says Dermot, who is trying to pave a way for a 3way.
Sad Sarah: Oh I'd rather die, thank you.
That was actually a good comeback.
Luckily, Sad Sarah gets home and suddenly, Sad John is at her house, because time is ephemeral in this movie. They use this terrible euphemism for sex: "I thought we were going to, you know, row the boat."
DOG COUNT: 6. Talking to a dog.
And then Dermot shows up and kisses her – while Sad John is still there! At this point, I actually have no idea what is happening in this movie (if I ever did) and it's not even the dogs that are confusing me.
DOG COUNT: 7. Sad Sarah is sitting with a dog while looking at a dog on TV.
Sad Sarah returns to the grocery store, looking sad. Later she's back on the prowl and looking…terrible.
Part of fucking things up with Sad John apparently means hanging out with Dermot, who has donned some glasses that are no bueno. That being said...
Okay, but we know this isn't going to work. After spending a magical night together that involves grey boxer briefs, we get:
Sad Sarah: No I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at myself for not listening to the voice in my head.
She then wears a pair of her own rose-colored glasses (hmmm: significant?), breaks Dermot's glasses, and says:
I HATE GUYS LIKE YOU I HATE GUYS LIKE YOU.
Luckily, Sassy Sister returns. Did I mention earlier she wears ponchos like this?
And says things like this:
Sassy Sister: "This is a good look for you, Sarah. You've gone beyond pajamas and are now wearing the bed."
(Isn't this screenshot beautiful? Note both the crying, naked woman and the fire flickering behind her as the screen transitions.)
Finalllly, because things have gotten dire, Sad Sarah's gay pretend friend lets her hang out with him and his HOT boyfriend.
DOG COUNT: 8.
Okay even though Sad Sarah is spending time with her gay friends, she has time to actually run down the street with manicure shoes and mits on and chase after Sad John as if phones don't exist in this nondescript California town.
Sad John John Cusack wears a surprisingly large number of long black coats in every movie he does.
DOG COUNT: 9.
Me everyday, sans dog.
DOG COUNT: 10. "You're 'must love dogs,' aren't you?"
Things have taken a turn for the actually insane. Sad Sarah has jumped on a crew boat and attempted to row row row her boat out to Sad John, bringing DOG MOTHER THERESA out to sea with her. Clear animal endangerment.
"You could have just called," says Sad John. Word.
Ahhhh Sad Sarah is alone in the grocery store again but I bet there will be a twist! There is a twist – Sad John has joined her and they are happy together!
Has anyone remarked on Jon Cusack's open-mouthed kissing style represented in all his movies? Perhaps we should start a Google Doc about it.
The movie appears to be ending.
DOG COUNT: 11.
DOG COUNT: 12.
The credits roll.
DOG COUNT: 13.
DOG COUNT: 14.
TOTAL DOG COUNT: 14 dog appearances.
I am still alive.