Marley & Me

So here you are, actually reading a review of Marley & Me. Don’t feel guilty, OK? It’s perfectly natural to want to know what happens when John Grogan’s bestseller about building a family around an obedience-proof Labrador retriever, a.k.a. “the world’s worst dog,” becomes a movie starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.

Maybe you tried to build a family once, or train a dog or write a bestseller. And you figure you might relate. Or maybe you’re just feeling worn out by the seasonal ambush of earnestly striving Oscar bait, and now you’re in the mood for a movie to turn off your mind and cuddle up with. A movie that tugs so friskily and unwittingly hard on the heartstrings that you’ll practically have to yell “Drop it!” to keep from spraining something. A movie so constitutionally sunny that its main characters don’t even have to be human, as long as they’re all cute and blond.

Well, it’s true that Marley & Me isn’t especially complicated. Here, all chewing of scenery is literal, and everyone (except the chewer, who’s obviously delighted) agrees on how annoying it is. Wilson’s Grogan is the sort of easygoing everydude who gets a dog in order to hit the snooze button on his wife’s biological clock, names the little fella after a reggae superstar, and gradually comes to discover that his own adulthood has been happening to him anyway. Generally, it goes about like so: Wow, this whole marriage and career and parenting thing is hard. I don’t know if I can — hey, Marley! Stop that! Marley!!

Which is to say that the movie offers a lot less actual drama and comedy than episodic observation and chronology. But how much did you really care about that? Your only real concern was about whether Marley & Me might somehow actually be more appetizing than a dog’s breakfast.

Rest assured. Yes, there’s cuteness aplenty, but also tender, unpretentious performances from Aniston, Alan Arkin as Grogan’s friendly-editor boss, and particularly Wilson, whose sweetly melancholic receptiveness honors the person-pet bond and disarms potential bathos. In fact, upon closer inspection, you might even notice a surprising lack of sentimental credentials among the creative team that brought this film to fruition. Improbably, Marley & Me was adapted by Don Roos, the writer and director of such edgy indie fare as Happy Endings and The Opposite of Sex; and Scott Frank, who cut his teeth adapting fiction by Elmore Leonard and Philip K. Dick, and made his own directorial debut with The Lookout, a character-driven caper thriller. The director here, David Frankel, most recently made The Devil Wears Prada, which at least allowed this eventual dog-centric filmmaker a close observation of bitches.

In the end, Marley & Me is about as profoundly substantive as you should expect a movie made from a book made from a collection of regional daily newspaper columns to be. But that probably won’t stop you from getting weepy about it when the time comes. And you know the time will come, for every best friend must one day leave that friendship behind and go drink out of the big toilet in the sky. Yes, you know.

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