The eras of romantic love notes and of traditional telephone landlines are behind us, replaced by the rapid-fire, date-a-new-person-each-day Internet era … which shows no signs of slowing down. Since movie stars don’t usually have trouble getting dates, 39-year-old actor, John Cusack, one of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors and co-star of Must Love Dogs, hasn’t himself tried online dating. However, for the rest of us mortals, 40 percent of our country’s singles have ventured into this cyber option to search for love. Numerous couples strolling hand-in-hand through Central Park knew each other only as “FairyPrncssXXX” and “MachoMan” a month ago, perhaps only graduating to the telephone as recent as last week. While such liaisons were deemed ‘sketchy’ by parents and friends a mere five years ago, it’s become apparent in the popular online frenzy that it’s as safe and worthwhile as any other form of meeting a potential mate. Completely fake profiles or just fudging of personal characteristics—such as a 250 pound woman describing herself as ‘voluptuous,’ or a scrawny 6’5” toothpick of a man claiming an ‘athletic’ physique—are filtered and tolerated by a person’s deep desire to get in touch with another individual predicated on common interests, richer than those randomly encountered in bars, restaurants, or various ‘meat-market’ settings.
Of course, it makes no sense that people who are sincerely seeking a romantic partner list phony interests or post old photos. Don’t they realize that at some point, if the email and/or telephone chemistry clicks, that they’ll eventually have to show up in person and reveal the lies? Clearly this is a rhetorical question since so many lovelorn do pursue this ridiculous course. While people can’t hide their true physical attributes after meeting in person, they can still present false impressions about who they are. So for those who post truthful profiles, online dating can resurrect the loves notes of an earlier time, whereby people get to know each other slowly before even meeting. Similar tastes in film, literature, music, art, etc, may lead a movie-buff to contact someone else who’s actually heard of Emir Kusturica, or a punk rocker to send a note to a big Megadeth fan. While there’s no way to replicate the in-person spark that’s so essential to a strong connection, at least you’re going into the first date knowing that you’ll have something to talk about. In any event, it’s slightly more controlled than a blind date, and though it’s no surer route to long-term happiness than any other form of hook-up, it’s as good a way as any to explore your options.
With the online dating world running rampant, Must Love Dogs—an inconsequential, harmless piece of moderately cute fluff—proves itself to be at least up-to-date in its tired dot-com glory (though oddly, I don’t recall seeing a single cell phone in the picture). It’s your standard tale about two divorced-turned-bitter-and-lonely souls who wind up proving the perfect tonic for each other’s ailments. Along the way, they encounter obstacles in the form of social awkwardness (due to being ‘out of the game’ for so long), anger towards their exes, and intense pressure from friends and family; ultimately, however, they (of course) persevere. It’s typical silliness, but John Cusack as Jake and Diane Lane as Sarah (along with Christopher Plummer as Sarah’s smooth father) give good performances, and the script—though packing its share of clunkers—generally keeps from being too cloying.
Cusack’s ability to deliver dialogue in entertaining, rapid-fire fashion particularly helps. There’s really not much to say about Must Love Dogs on any deeper level. It’s standard fare at its most standard, though less soppy than usual. But what’s most interesting about Must Love Dogs from a modern perspective is its all-encompassing look at the wary, throw-caution-to-the-wind, and shrug-it-off perspectives that the world has regarding this cult phenomenon. Old-fashioned folks think that online dating is untrustworthy; the new-age crowd (which doesn’t necessarily correlate with their age) think it’s loads of fun; and then there are those who dismiss it completely. That Sarah’s father joins the fray before Sarah herself indicates that the generation gap is pretty much meaningless when it comes to the Internet. It’s all about perception and a willingness to change with the times.
Watching the emotional baggage and personal neurosis of these two attractive and smart people unfold, and thwart what should be an obvious match-made-in-heaven, comforts the rest of us oh-so-fabulous, why-can’t-we-find-our-soulmate singles in the knowledge that we’re not alone in the struggle to make that forever after connection. There could be a confluence of factors working against an easy path to romance at any given point in time … he’s got his act together/she doesn’t … she’s got her act together/he doesn’t … working hard on a career … working hard on raising kids as a single parent … chemistry of a rock with a scallop … the astrological misalignment of planets from an errant comet’s wayward path in the cosmos … why not? … it could be. So online dating opens up opportunities to meet people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet at the local grocery store.
Must Love Dogs isn’t Before Sunrise—which executes that archaic, meeting-in-person method to portray love in an emotionally delicious and deep manner—but at least it handles its topic better than You’ve Got Mail, aided by strong casting and a researched look at today’s culture. To those who fear adapting to today’s popular Internet dating, Must Love Dogs scoffs at you and says, “Come on, give it a twirl! You never know if your soulmate is lurking behind a laptop 47 miles away!” Simplistic, sure, but it’s better than getting left in the romantic dust.