The Beverly Wilshire is one of Hollywood’s legendary hotels, steeped in cinematic history and rich in architectural significance. It’s also rich in celebrity togetherness, but that’s another story. Warren Beatty, for example, lived in the hotel for decades, bedding all manner of female stars, starlets, and wannabe stars, before he bought a home and settled down with Annette Bening. I have no idea if I was staying in his old room, but if those walls could talk. Whew.

And yes, it’s really true, rich people are different from you and me. Quite a number of the hotel guests dripped jewelry, men included, and quite a few actually brought their pets. Lots of little doggies scampered across the hotel’s gleaming marble floors in its majestic soaring lobby with its centerpiece of hundreds of purple flowers standing six feet tall in purple crystal vases. Outside, the Los Angeles heat didn’t keep the tourists from strolling Rodeo Drive and peering into the windows of its pricey stores. I didn’t see a lot of shopping bags, but I do have this question: When did clam diggers become fashionable for men to wear? Ugh.

Inside the hotel, Diane Lane, Elizabeth Perkins, Stockard Channing, and Dermot Mulroney represented the acting side of Must Love Dogs. Gary David Goldberg wrote the screenplay, directed, and co-produced with sisters Suzanne and Jennifer Todd. No offense to Perkins, Channing, and Mulroney (all of whom I like), but Lane was the star get of the day. In movie lore, Lane’s Oscar-nominated performance in Unfaithful is considered by many, myself included, to be one of the great screen performances of all time. Astonishingly, the forty-year old Lane, who looks like a twenty-something, has made more than forty feature films, including some cult favorites like The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Her weapon against stress and the vagaries of getting a bit older is, she tells us, “practicing yoga.”

Lane was drawn to Must Love Dogs because she found aspects of the screenplay to be “realistic.” The movie is about a Sarah, a teacher, who has been divorced for eight months and finds herself in a slough of despond. Her close-knit Irish-American family recognizes her miasma and is determined to do something about it. Sarah’s sisters want her back in the dating pool, if only they can get her out of her pajamas. Sarah has no desire to get her feet wet, but the sisters can’t be stopped. They engineer a profile for Sarah and place it with an online dating service. Internet dating hasn’t made finding romance less complicated; it’s just made the prelude to dating a little easier. After all, you truly can stay in your pajamas while surfing the web. Of course, the caveat, “must love dogs,” is part of the pitch. The dangers of online dating are readily obvious. Regardless of personal details, regardless of photographs, everyone on the web is invisible. Until they meet.

Lane immediately saw the possibilities in Goldberg’s script. “There were lots of laughs,” she says, but also a “ring of truth. Everyone who is realistically looking to meet a partner understands all the frustrations. I think finding romance is a story most people can relate to.” Lane plays her part with just the right amount of both hesitation and expectation. One of the movie’s comic moments has her meeting her own father on a first date. Played by the wonderful Christopher Plummer, he’s fudged a bit in his online profile. Quite a bit.

Of course, one of the big dating differences these days is that you don’t really have to meet people to initially meet people. Computers have set up a nice buffer zone. Sarah’s sister Carol is sharply played by Perkins with a tart tongue and delightfully jaundiced attitude. As Perkins puts it, “truth in advertising doesn’t apply.” Her character recognizes that the online pitch is just the come-on, the bait, so to speak. It’s up to the couple to make it work, or, if the first date fails, “have fun with the x-factors and then quickly leave the coffee shop.” By the way, Carol’s online ad for her sister includes the words “voluptuous, sensuous, alluring, and fun.” Sarah disagrees; she currently feels like none of those adjectives. In fact, as for “must love dogs,” Sarah doesn’t actually have one of her own, but she borrows her brother’s playful Newfoundland for her first date with Jake, played by John Cusack.

In writing his screenplay, Goldberg has crafted a lot of characters. He’s clearly a man who isn’t afraid of dialogue and multi-layered situations. The producer-director-writer is famous for television’s Family Ties and Spin City, and he’s also worked on M*A*S*H, Lou Grant, and The Bob Newhart Show. Semi-retired and living with his wife and four dogs in bucolic delight in Vermont, Goldberg wasn’t eager to re-enter the Hollywood pitch pool. Why Vermont? He firmly states that it’s the place “America is supposed to be.” He was strolling through his town and bought a copy of Must Love Dogs at his local bookshop. “The novel made me laugh out-loud,” he says. The movie possibilities were obvious to him and he began the process to bring the work to the screen.

In additional to the serial dating of Sarah’s father, Goldberg’s script includes strong moments with other male characters. Mulroney’s Bob is the separated dad of one of Sarah’s students. He’s there to complicate her situation. The guy’s got it all together. Maybe too much so. Mulroney, a dog lover in real life, sheepishly admits to using the pet ploy to pique a woman’s interest in him in the past. As for working on the movie, he was pleased with Goldberg’s easy-going nature on the set. “He created a fun atmosphere and wasn’t afraid of listening to ideas. Comedy is a collaborative process, and Gary understands that.” Channing, who plays one of Sarah’s father’s circle of women friends, agreed. A superb actress, and proud owner of a frisky mutt, she scores strong comic points with her own online fudging of the facts. She plays a woman of a certain age who delights in the game that she sees as internet dating. Channing told me that the movie captures “a randomness to life that should be embraced.”

Co-producer Suzanne Todd said that Must Love Dogs (book and movie) captures the fascinating aspects of internet dating. “You don’t know if the chemistry is going to be right. What seemed perfect on the computer screen might not be.” Her sister Jennifer notes that there’s a lot of “misinformation that people put about themselves online.” Fortunately, the movie captures the gentler side of false data and hyped dreams.

With any movie, the audience has to identify with the central character in order for the story-line to work. Regarding this film, it really is a case of must love Lane, and you do. She sees the movie as an example of “celebrating women.” Thanks to Cook’s framework and Goldberg’s understanding of it, Must Love Dogs builds upon Sarah’s concerns about the whole dating scene. Lane plays the part of an unsure, but strong woman with just the right amount of depth and self-deprecation. She keeps her character likable. The actress appreciates the structure of Sarah’s relationship with Jake. “There’s a role reversal there that’s believable, she says. “Jake is seeking something solid right from the start. Sarah is entering something new and wants to avoid anything too heavy. Keep it light is her objective. The lack of stereotyping is refreshing.”

Must Love Dog is a cute romantic comedy that is wonderfully acted. At its core is Lane, an actress who is capable of transcending the barrier between audience and screen. In person, the reason for her appeal is obvious. She’s unassuming and honest, and understands the limits to anyone’s talent. But she also has the inner dynamic to keep testing herself. And she’s got an interesting private life going as well. She’s married to actor Josh Brolin, whose stepmother (thanks to his father James) is Barbra Streisand. And yes, Lane does occasionally hang out with the couple. In fact, Lane leaves us with this tidbit: At Thanksgiving, Streisand “makes a terrific turkey.” By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

A lot of people find something remarkably comfortable about online dating. The weirdest thing would be if all the folks posting information about themselves were actually four people in Poughkeepsie, but real romantic encounters have genuinely resulted from online hook-ups. It’s a crazy world, I’ll grant you that.

Claire Cook saw the possibilities in that world. The Massachusetts writer penned a hugely popular comic novel entitled Must Love Dogs. Her book has been turned into a major motion picture, as they say, and press persons from around the world recently gathered at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. They were there to see the movie and chat with some of the stars, the director, and the producing team behind the film.