It’s Summer Lovin’ Week here at Mashable, which means things are getting steamy. In honor of the release of Crazy Rich Asians, we’re celebrating onscreen love and romance, looking at everything from our favorite fictional couples to how Hollywood’s love stories are evolving. Think of it as our love letter to, well, love.
Friends, I’m troubled by the state of rom-coms involving our four-legged furballs.
I saw Dog Days this weekend, the new Love Actually-esque summer comedy in which multiple standalone plot threads converge here and there but never — by design — form into a cohesive, singular story. Instead you get these slices of life populated by an ensemble of one-note characters.
It’s fine. Completely inoffensive in every way. You get a few good laughs, a handful of tear-jerker moments, and generally a pleasantly underwhelming two hours at the theater. You know where each story will end within moments of meeting a new character.
The dogs make it work. I am an unapologetic dog-obsessive, and for any of its other faults, Dog Days goes in on the dogs. Each of its stories is in part about all the ways, big and small, that our lives change when we welcome the love of a sweet pup. I’m a sucker for that shit.
But Dog Days is still not a good movie by most measures. Leaving the theater, I started running through the too-short list of doggy-friendly films in my head. Are there any good ones? Must Love Dogs: No. You’ve Got Mail: Controversial opinion maybe, but nope. Marley & Me: Hell no.
Plenty of rom-coms feature pets in some way, but that’s not the same thing. As Good As It Gets has some great dog moments, but they’re not the movie’s raison d’être. Legally Blonde 2 is propelled in part by Elle’s canine companion, but Bruiser himself remains more of a sidekick.
In my own estimation, only one title stands out: The Truth About Cats and Dogs. This 1996 rom-com is a gender-flipped take on the late-19th century play, Cyrano de Bergerac, and putting aside the ’90s-ness of it all, it holds up very well as an entertaining love story even today.
A then up-and-coming Janeane Garofalo stars as Abby, the voice behind a popular radio talk show aimed at helping pet owners with their problems. When professional photographer Brian (Ben Chaplin) calls in one day for assistance with a large pooch he acquired for a shoot, her thoughtful advice convinces him to keep the dog while simultaneously stealing his heart.
There’s just one catch: Brian’s only talked to Abby, so he doesn’t know what she looks like. Abby herself has tons of self-confidence issues, and the movie would have us believe that the world thinks she’s ugly because Garofalo is a short brunette (ah, 1996… I don’t miss you).
So when Brian calls the radio station looking for a date, the panicked Abby makes a poor decision: She agrees to meet, but — catching sight of a neighbor’s photo, a woman who happens to be a model (Uma Thurman) — she describes herself as a tall, blonde-haired woman. Thurman’s Noelle is drawn into the caper soon after, and the story goes from there.
The Truth About Cats and Dogs is as predictable as any other rom-com — there’s a formula for these things, after all — but it’s elevated by the strong chemistry between the two talented female stars. They manage to sell the less-believable plot twists, thanks in part to the earnest innocence of Chaplin’s performance.
It’s also a deeply flawed movie to rewatch now, in 2018, a time when many people’s eyes are more open to social injustices than they have been in the past. The idea that we’re supposed to read Abby, a smart and successful career woman, as an unappealing romantic interest is absurd. The movie also upholds the notion of “tall, thin, blonde” as the beauty ideal for women.
We can make “product of its time” allowances here, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook these issues completely. The Truth About Cats and Dogs can still be a good, enjoyable movie even if it perpetuates some bad, outdated thinking, as long as we’re honest about those limitations.
Also, on the pet front: There’s not as much attention paid to the furballs in The Truth About Cats and Dogs as there is in Dog Days; it’s much more about the people. Brian’s big, doofy pooch only gets a handful of scenes, and any other pets (Abby’s cat, a sick turtle) are relegated to set dressing. But Abby’s love of animals is the genesis of this sweet story.
The Truth About Cats and Dogs may not be a perfect movie, but it’s still the best of what pet-friendly rom-coms have to offer.
You can do better, Hollywood. Dog people like smart love stories too.