The high-tech jargon of Internet dating meets the old-fashioned situations of onscreen romance and heartwarming comedy ensues. That's the gist of a new romantic comedy co-starring John Cusack and Diane Lane; and Alan Silverman has a look at Must Love Dogs.
The 'personals ad' takes a new place of prominence in the modern American dating scene as portrayed in Must Love Dogs the story of divorcee Sarah, whose sisters, brother and even her father all want to find her a new mate.
Diane Lane plays Sarah and believes the real-life anguish of divorce is not out of place in a comedy.
"I think they go together. I think we laugh at our pain and that's what makes us heal, hopefully," she says. "In hindsight, you have these ridiculous things happen and then you say 'one day I'll be laughing about this.' At that point it's funny because you survive these things [or] that's the hope."
Exasperated, Sarah's older sister takes a bold step onto the Internet.
Lane, who is married in real life, says she has never tried Internet dating services that claim to be able to pair people up scientifically; but her research into it for this role intrigued her.
"I think it would be a ball. I would be frightened if I were looking for a life mate kind of thing, which my character is," she says. "That's a little more daunting, I think; but I also think it's great to get your resume out of the way, as it were. 'No smokers need apply' or whatever your qualms might be, you can say that up front and not be personal. 'Nothing personal, just please have 10 toes.'"
John Cusack plays Jake, the perfect match who answers Sarah's Internet ad. Always a stickler for realistic characters and dialogue.
"Mostly you just try to make it as real as you can. Real life seems to be stranger than most movies," he says.
Cusack says he took writer/director Gary David Goldberg up on his offer to tinker with the script.
"When I first talked to Gary, because it was a smaller part, he said 'well, if we're going to have you do it, we have to make something of it.' So I came with some ideas and he sort of wanted to go with them," he explains.
"Some ideas," according to Goldberg, amounted to about 30 pages of what he calls "really good stuff" that was incorporated into the film. A veteran creator of hit TV situation comedies including Family Ties and Spin City, Goldberg says there can be a few surprises, but audiences have certain expectations from film romantic comedies.
"In this movie, which is basically 'girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy' what's different about it is that she has the 'Hugh Grant' role ... she's flipping around and John knows what he wants and he's going after it," he says. "So, in a sense, we change that a little bit; but I think it is like situation comedy on television. There are certain 'givens' ... and I think you go against them at your peril. You can, you need to know that's what you're doing. "
Co-star Lane, who does not deny that the film could be considered a 'chick flick' (appealing mainly to women in the audience), believes it's fun to give in to the fantasy of film romance.
"I think surrendering to the genre is a good thing, especially when people are paying $10 and are spending two hours in the dark together ... you want the fulfillment of the investment you've made in the characters," she says. "I think there's a lot of room for entertainment in today's world and people want to feel good ... and it's a 'feel good' movie in a 'feel good' genre; and John Cusack is so good at what he does that he deserves the girl at the end, after all."
Must Love Dogs also features Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing, Dermot Mulroney and veteran Canadian-born actor Christopher Plummer as Sarah's poetry spouting Irish father. The soundtrack is peppered with popular love songs from the 1980s.