How do you dive back into the tepid dating pond after the relationship that kept you on the couch through your 30s evaporates?

There you are, hovering around 40, with a dance card in your hand. You couldn’t speak to yourself in the morning if you did what you might have done as a 20-year-old. Besides, the hangover would be too much to bear. But the other option, internet dating, is just as scary for Diane Lane’s 30-something divorcee.

Her sisters (Elizabeth Perkins and Ali Hillis) intervene and post her profile on perfectmatch.com: Voluptuous, sensuous, alluring and fun -¦ Must love dogs. Lane’s Sarah reluctantly meets a string of mismatched dates. Only one seems likely but John Cusack’s boat builder is maybe too intense. Her widowed father (Christopher Plummer) has more cyber-dating success and hooks up with Dolly, played with equal measures of trailer trash and earth mother by Stockard Channing. Meanwhile, Dermot Mulroney, the freshly separated father of one of Sarah’s students, begins flirting with her.

Must Love Dogs suffers slightly at the hands of writer/ director Gary David Goldberg whose talent as a sitcom writer hasn’t translated here. While Perkins and Channing are charismatic and Lane and Cusack amuse, Must Love Dogs is one of those romantic comedies where the challenges aren’t that challenging and the laughs are light.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin, on the other hand, is a surprisingly sweet and often side-splittingly funny tale of true love, friendship and -“ finally -“ getting laid.

The elastic comedian Steve Carell (Anchorman) is brilliant as the virgin Andy whose workmates decide it’s time he stopped playing video games and collecting action dolls and lost his virginity.

You’d expect there to be decks of dick jokes, lewd and derogatory talk about women and some stellar bragging about one’s sexual prowess -“ and there is -“ but The 40-Year-Old Virgin subverts these rituals of male bonding by depicting them as a shallow pool compared to the lasting love that Andy really wants with love interest Catherine Keener.

Mind you, along the way Andy is educated in the arts of pick-up lines and how to pick up a drunk, speed dating, condom wrestling, and a torturous but screamingly funny episode of chest waxing. Comedians Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen and former rapper Romany Malco as Andy’s well-meaning but misguided buddies also bring pathos to the story since their own dating histories leak disasters of Titanic proportions.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin loses a little steam as it veers away from the gutter towards true love and its inevitable happy ending but, overall, this is mantastic comedy with plenty of charm.

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