A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie includes repeated references to dating, body descriptions ("voluptuous"), and sex, including a couple of scenes in bed, and one in a shower (here the protagonist is naked, her back to the camera, alone and upset), as well as some party drinking. A woman ends up on a blind date with her father. There is some mild profanity. As its focus is Internet dating, the film also shows how it involves performing, deceiving, and self-deluding. A middle-aged woman "chats" with and attracts the attentions of a 15-year-old, whom she sends home immediately.
What's the story?
Preschool teacher and divorcee Sarah (Diane Lane) doesn't want to think of herself as desperate, but her family -- widower dad Bill (Christopher Plummer), a bunch of brothers, and a couple of sisters, including Carol (the excellent Elizabeth Perkins) -- press the point. With Carol's prodding, Sarah enters her data into a dating site. Though her first "match" is her father ("This is disturbing on so many levels," she groans), she persists, meeting with a number of bad matches (sad guy, cocky guy, preoccupied guy), until she finds Jake (the way-too-smart-for-formula-comedies John Cusack). Also recently divorced, he loves Doctor Zhivago (because it's about "a love so real it hurts even after you're dead") and crafts wooden skulls (boats) for a living. He's clever, speeds through his dialogue ("You are kind of 'voluptuous,'" he notes, observing a dubious description in her Internet ad, "in a minimalist kind of way"), and worries about how he comes across. He is, in a word, perfect guy.
Is it any good?
Burdened by a familiar premise (Internet daters are desperate), MUST LOVE DOGS constrains its excellent performers. Sarah wants most to avoid the fate of one of her father's girlfriends, the dazzling Dolly (Stockard Channing). She sees the Internet as a new horizon ("It's part fantasy, part community," she gushes, "And it lets you pay your bills naked"), but thinks again when she meets in person one of "chat" partners, a 15-year-old boy who's developed a serious crush on her.
Perhaps because he's so young, this kid has conviction, though he duly leaves when instructed ("Do your homework," says Dolly has she loads him in a cab). Sarah's route to her relationship is more roundabout, even though Jake is obviously the right choice. Cusack's refreshingly odd physical and verbal rhythms only make you want to see more of him. And why does Jake spend even a minute with the nubile, cheap-joke-in-a miniskirt Sherry (Jordana Spiro)? He's so obviously Sarah's right choice that the rest of the movie looks like wheel-spinning.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Sarah's family's meddling in her dating business: they mean well, but the film suggests they are pushy too, such that Sarah worries about being single. How is Sarah distracted by her widower father's dating? How is her choice between Bob and Jake reduced to who seems less "scary" to her? How does the Internet affect the ways people interact, in romance and as families?
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