It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Must Love Dogs" is like a puppy with big brown eyes and a wagging tail who weeps with eagerness to lick your hand, but you take a look around the pound and decide to adopt the sad-eyed beagle who looks as if she has seen a thing or two. In dogs, as in love stories, it is better to choose wisdom over infatuation.
The movie stars two of the most likable actors in the movies, Diane Lane and John Cusack. There is a sense in which you can simply sit there in the theater and regard them with satisfaction. Cusack in particular has a gift of intelligent speech that no doubt inspires discerning women to let him know, one way or another, that he can have his way with them if he will just keep talking. Here he plays a man named Jake, who builds racing boats by hand, out of wood. "They may not win," he observes, "but they lose beautifully." His divorce recently became final.
Lane is a 40ish kindergarten teacher named Sarah who is also divorced; her family despairs because it seems she will never remarry. She belongs to one of those families that functions like the supporting cast of "Cheers," offering one-liner insights and unwanted advice. Her sister Carol (Elizabeth Perkins) posts a phony singles ad about her on the Internet. This leads to an obligatory scene in which she has one date apiece with a series of spectacularly unlikely candidates, including one who bursts into tears almost continuously.
Fate and a helpful prod from the plot eventually bring Sarah and Jake together, although it is not love at first sight, or if it is, they deny it to themselves. There is meanwhile another man in the picture; Dermot Mulroney plays the separated father of the cutest of her little preschool toddlers, and seems like a plenty nice guy. What she should know, as the screenplay certainly does, is that "separated" is not the same thing as "divorced." A wise woman of my acquaintance advises her single female friends, "Married men are for married women" -- a rule that is more complex than at first it seems.